Equity Petal

Equity Petal

The intent of the Equity Petal is to correlate the impacts of design and development to their ability to foster a true sense of Community, whether that Community is composed of half a city block or an entire borough. A society that embraces all sectors of humanity and allows the dignity of equal access is a civilization in the best position to make decisions that protect and restore the natural environment. Until all Communities aspire to such greatness, our societies will always be less than they can be.

There is a disturbing trend toward privatizing infrastructure and creating polarized attitudes of “us” vs. “them”—allowing only those of a certain economic or cultural background to participate fully in community life. Although opposite on the spectrum, enclaves for the wealthy are only one step removed from the racial and ethnic ghettos that continue to plague our Communities. A subset of this trend is the notion that individuals can own access to nature itself, by privatizing admittance to waterways, beaches and other wilderness areas, cutting off most people from the few pristine environmental places that remain. Only by realizing that we are indeed all in this together can the greatest environmental and social problems be addressed.

We need to aggressively challenge the notion that property ownership somehow implies that we can do whatever we like, even externalize the negative environmental impacts of our actions onto others. For example, consider these situations: when a polluting factory is placed next to a residential community, the environmental burdens of its operation are placed on the individuals who live in those houses. The factory is diminishing its neighbors’ rights to clean air, water and soil. When a building towers over another structure, its shadow diminishes that structure’s ability to generate clean and renewable energy, thereby impeding the rights to energy independence. We all deserve access to sunlight and clean air, water and soil, both within our homes and within our Communities.

We need to prioritize the concept of “citizen” above that of “consumer” while elevating the notion of “community” above that of “self.” Equity implies the creation of Communities that provide universal access to people with disabilities, and allow people who can’t afford expensive forms of transportation to fully participate in the major elements of society. Indeed, most projects in the built environment greatly outlive the original owner or developer—society inherits the legacies of bad decisions and good decisions alike. Since the act of community planning leading to sizeable development foreshadows a considerable environmental impact shared by all, there is an inherent responsibility to ensure that any development provides some public good and does not degrade quality of life.

Ideal Conditions and Current Limitations

The Living Community Challenge envisions developments that allow equitable access for all people regardless of physical abilities, age, or socioeconomic status.

Current limitations of reaching this ideal stem primarily from ingrained cultural attitudes about the rights associated with private ownership. It is necessary to change zoning standards in order to protect the rights of individuals occupying buildings and communities that are “downstream” of water, air and noise pollution, and who are adversely impacted due to lack of sunlight or exposure to toxins. Past attempts by zoning standards to protect people and communities from particularly egregious pollutants resulted in sterile single-use areas.

A healthy, diverse community is one that encourages multiple functions, and is organized in a way that protects the health of people and the environment. When planned development does occur, it can sometimes lead to gentrification of a community, raising property values and rental rates to such a level that it prices out the current inhabitants. A truly equitable community is one that provides a welcoming framework for people at all economic levels and ensures that a place doesn’t push out the very people that helped to improve it, or who were its original residents

The project must be designed to create human-scaled rather than automobilescaled places, so that the experience brings out the best in humanity and promotes culture and interaction. In context of the character of each Transect, there are specific maximum (and sometimes minimum) requirements that contribute to livable places.

The project must follow the following design guidelines:

All primary transportation, roads and non-building infrastructure must be equally accessible to all members of the public, regardless of background, age and socioeconomic class—including the homeless—with reasonable steps taken to ensure that all people can benefit from the Community.

The public realm must be provided for and enhanced through design measures and features such as street furniture, public art, gardens and benches that are accessible to all members of society.

Access for those with physical disabilities must be safeguarded through designs meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines.

The Community shall provide access to, and will not diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society. The Community must also appropriately address any noise audible to the public.


Sunlight may not be blocked above a maximum height allotted for the Transect, per the following table:

Transect Maximum shade height on adjacent measured on Winter Solstice between 10am — 2pm (meters)
L1 --
L2-L3 6m
L4 10m
L5 15m
L6 20m

Natural Waterways

The Community shall provide access to and access pathways along natural waterways, except where such access can be proven to be a hazard to public safety or would severely compromise the function of specific water-oriented industries. No private entity may assume ownership of water contained in these bodies or compromise the quality or quantity of water that flows downstream.

The Community must incorporate access to basic community services and amenities that support the health, dignity and rights of all people.

All residents must have access to the following within ½ mile directly or ¼ mile to a public transportation line that provides direct (without transferring) access within 2 miles.

  • Places to Shop a grocery store or farmers market that has fresh produce and meat, a mixed-use commercial zone
  • Places to Congregate a community center or youth center/senior center
  • Places to Work an office building, light industrial or hospital/clinic
  • Places to Learn a daycare, school or higher education institution.

The Community must have a public transportation network that runs between 7am and 7pm (at a minimum), with range and capacity as outlined in the table below.

Transect Requirement
L3 One mode or line/ ½ mile
L4 Two modes or lines/ ½ mile
L5 Three modes or lines/ ½ mile
L6 Four modes or lines/ ½ mile

For every dollar of project cost, the Community must set aside and donate half a cent to a charity28 of its choosing or contribute to the Living Future Equity Exchange Program, which directly funds renewable infrastructure for charitable enterprises.

The Community must purchase the equity offset for all projects within its direct control and encourage the offset in all others.

The Community must help create a more JUST, equitable society through the transparent disclosure of the business practices of the major organizations involved in constructing the Community. In all construction projects, at least two of the following project team roles must have a JUST Label for their organization:

Transect Requirement
Architect of Record Owner’s Representative or Project Manager
Planner of Record Sustainability Consultant
MEP Engineer of Record Neighborhood Associations / Homeowner’s Associations
Landscape Architect of Record Development Authorities
Owner / Developer Chambers of Commerce
Contractor Municipality

The Community must advocate for JUST participation to all future employers within the Community.