A few years ago, according to architect Jeffrey Mandyck, the McKnight Foundation and AIA Minnesota decided to establish an award that would honor those who excel at producing design for developments that are regenerative (more about that later) and resilient for people, communities and for the environment.

That effort stemmed from a need to establish a clear definition and common language among developers, design professionals, general contractors, public agencies and the general public.

An AIA Minnesota task force that includes experts and researchers from the professional architecture community worked closely with Richard Graves and the team he leads at the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR) to develop a new model. That team also collaborated with the U's Minnesota Design Center and New Orleans-based Colloqate Design.

The result? The 21st Century Development (21CD) model and matrix. Mandyck explains more about this cutting-edge program.

Q: What does it mean to be regenerative community?

A: 21CD strives to provide a healthy environment for all people and living systems now and in a dynamic future. It is part of AIA Minnesota's broader effort to inspire agency and accelerate action toward a better built environment for all.

Q: What's the overall goal of the 21CD model?

A: The model is primarily focused on guiding developers — private, public and nonprofit — but we crafted it with policymakers and community leaders in mind, as well. We need policy solutions that accelerate our progress along the path, and the public needs to be able to envision and advocate for a better built environment. We've started to identify how much running room there actually is before major barriers impede progress along the path to regenerative development in each of the performance areas: Place, energy, water, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Our advocacy efforts will work to address those barriers.

Q: Are the requirements just suggestions?

A: Let's call them "prescriptive suggestions" — each cell in the matrix includes a description, as well as approaches needed, to achieve a specific outcome. The desire with 21CD is to make all of these approaches more commonplace in private, public and nonprofit development. In defining and measuring success, we have to start accounting for the whole of how a development project is initiated, designed and executed, and the broad array of near-term and long-term impacts of that development.

Q: Does compliance cost more?

A: That depends on what degree of performance one is striving to achieve, and on some external factors. The performance matrix does note where one might encounter financial limitations. It's often due to implementation of infrastructures and systems that extend well beyond a development's boundaries, and yet the benefits and outcomes of that approach have positive impacts that reach beyond the borders of the development as well. Approximately 75 to 80% of the approaches in the matrix are adaptable with little to no additional development cost.

Q: Is Fields of St. Croix the only local case study so far?

A: There are several exciting public and private developments underway in our region that are making progress in areas relevant to 21CD. In the past year, we have established research teams who have been working closely with private developments and public/government agencies leading the way in 21CD practices. These "research partners" include Towerside Innovation District and its Malcom Yards development, Rochester Destination Medical Center and the City of Minneapolis 2040 Plan.

Q: Most of the cases you cite are in Europe, why?

A: Europe is ahead of us. They have more than three times the density; a more equitably distributed per capita income and greater subsidies retaining agricultural lands surrounding cities.

Q: Are these case studies being tested?

A: Not at this time. Having said that, as design professionals, we always advocate for our clients to have their completed designs/systems tested to verify that they are performing as designed. 21CD is not intended to be another certification system that requires analysis; we have many of those in place already. It can be used in concert with those other certification systems and to enhance development projects from planning through execution. Richard Graves describes the potential impact of 21CD as "radical incrementalism." Every project can be plotted on the matrix, and every project can find opportunities to move up the scale in resilient development. And every advancement helps us improve our built environment.

Q: How was the 21CD model developed?

A: After reviewing a wide array of frameworks and certifications, we chose the Living Community Challenge as our base. We worked to make the "living" level of the Living Community Challenge more actionable, showing that we can get there one step at a time. We worked with CSBR to add the "regenerative" level to the framework, because this is what's possible today — it's what we can all be working toward. And we collaborated with Colloqate Design to strengthen the "equity" performance area at all levels. It is intended to address regenerative potential across more than environmental performance to create welcoming, sustainable communities for all.