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Positive development and assessment

Janis Lynn Birkeland (School of Architecture and Planning, National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Queensland, Australia)

Smart and Sustainable Built Environment

ISSN: 2046-6099

Article publication date: 13 May 2014




There has been a tendency in sustainability science to be passive. The purpose of this paper is to introduce an alternative positive framework for a more active and direct approach to sustainable design and assessment that de-couples environmental impacts and economic growth.


This paper deconstructs some systemic gaps that are critical to sustainability in built environment management processes and tools, and reframes negative “sustainable” decision making and assessment frameworks into their positive counterparts. In particular, it addresses the omission of ecology, design and ethics in development assessment.


Development can be designed to provide ecological gains and surplus “eco-services,” but assessment tools and processes favor business-as-usual. Despite the tenacity of the dominant paradigm (DP) in sustainable development institutionalized by the Brundtland Report over 25 years ago, these omissions are easily corrected.

Research limitations/implications

The limitation is that the author was unable to find exceptions to the omissions cited here in the extensive literature on urban planning and building assessment tools. However, exceptions prove the rule. The implication is that it is not too late for eco-positive retrofitting of cities to increase natural and social capital. The solutions are just as applicable in places like China and India as the USA, as they pay for themselves.


Positive development (PD) is a fundamental paradigm shift that reverses the negative models, methods and metrics of the DP of sustainable development. This paper provides an example of how existing “negative” concepts and practices can be converted into positive ones through a PD prism. Through a new form of bio-physical design, development can be a sustainability solution.



Lynn Birkeland, J. (2014), "Positive development and assessment", Smart and Sustainable Built Environment, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 4-22.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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