Applying the Built Environment Sustainability Tool to Assess and Improve Neighbourhoods

There is increasing consensus that neighbourhoods will be a key factor in achieving improved urban sustainability (Choguill, 2008; Gibberd, 2013; Williams, 2007).

Neighbourhoods which provide support for sustainable living and working patterns in the form of local access to education, health, work opportunities, recreation facilities and sustainable products and services provide an important means of achieving improved sustainability performance of urban areas (Williams, 2007).

The Built Environment Sustainability Tool, or BEST, aims to provide a way of measuring the extent to which this ‘sustainability support’ or ‘sustainability capability’ is in place in neighbourhoods. It also provides a way a means of exploring options for increasing this support in a structured way. In the BEST, sustainability capability is measured through sustainability assessment criteria. These consist of Health, Knowledge and Employment capability indicators and Shelter, Mobility, Goods, Services, Waste and Biodiversity indicators.

The tool has been used to assess the capability of an existing neighbourhood  (Groenkloof in Pretoria, see figure 1) and to propose and test proposals that can be used to improve this (see the report, figure 2).

BEST Groenkloof

Figure 1. The Neighbourhood

BEST report

Figure 2. BEST report

The BEST assessment report in figure 2 shows the results of an assessment of the existing neighbourhood (Existing) and an assessment of the neighbourhood with a number of proposals (Proposed). The assessment indicates that existing neighbourhood has an overall capability of 2.80 and has a partial capability to enable occupants to achieve HDI and EF targets and live in a sustainable way.

Areas identified by the BEST as having poor or no capability include Shelter (1.29), Waste (0.00) and Knowledge (1.20). Areas with excellent capability include Health (4.71) and Food (4.71). This pattern of strengths and weaknesses can be used to determine, propose, and test, proposals that may improve sustainability performance.

In response to the initial assessment, the following proposals were developed; a primary school within the neighbourhood, improved pedestrian and cycle routes throughout the neighbourhood, a recycling scheme, support for increased development densities and the promotion of solar water heaters and rainwater harvesting systems.

The impact of these proposals on measured capability can be identified through a review of the ‘existing’ scores for the neighbourhood and the ‘proposed’ scores for the neighbourhood. The proposed scores indicate that the proposals have improved local capability for sustainability from a 2.80 to a 3.80 (strong capability for sustainability). In particular, there is a very strong improvement in capability related to Waste and strong improvements in capability related to Knowledge, Mobility and Employment, as shown in figure 2.

The application of the BEST to the neighbourhood reveals that it is an effective way of identifying important gaps in neighbourhood physical provision for more sustainable living and working patterns. It also provides a methodology that encourages the exploration of proposals that can be used to address these gaps. The approach, therefore, provides a holistic assessment of physical support, or capability, for sustainability in a way that promotes integrated approaches and multi-impact solutions.

The full paper on the project is Gibberd, J., 2017. A Critical Evaluation of the Built Environment Sustainability Tool presented at the West African Built Environment Research Conference,16-18 August 2017, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana]