Introducing a new framework that provides a pathway to achieving the best in development

By Amy Goetzman

When it comes to development of the built environment, what are we aiming for? What does ideal development look and feel like in the 21st century? And what actions will move development ever faster toward that ideal?

21st Century Development (21CD) is an initiative that seeks to answer these questions. It establishes a new framework to support the efforts of all stakeholders—architects, developers, funders, policymakers, community organizers, and the general public—to create communities that benefit us all. The core research and content has been developed through a collaboration among the American Institute of Architects Minnesota, the Center for Sustainable Building Research and others at the University of Minnesota, Colloqate Design (New Orleans–based specialists in equity in architecture), and the McKnight Foundation. Communications and engagements for the broader community are being designed by Juxtaposition Arts.

The tool at the center of 21CD is a matrix that looks at seven performance areas—Place, Water, Energy, Materials, Health and Happiness, Equity, and Beauty—that should be considered in any development project. Each of these areas is examined in detail. Place, for instance, considers green space and habitat, existing limits to growth, access to food, and transportation. In each performance area, a development or design can be evaluated on a five-step scale ranging from today’s standard development to a regenerative ideal, which has a positive influence on society and the environment.

Case studies collected on the 21CD website showcase development projects from around the world that achieve above-standard ratings in most performance areas. None of the projects reach regenerative status, yet all of them demonstrate that we can do better—that sustainable development is possible.

“I used to see a lot of development projects try to reinvent the wheel,” says Center for Sustainable Building Research director Richard Graves, AIA, whose research helped form the core of the 21CD matrix. “They spent time and resources researching these possibilities and setting goals. Now I’m starting to see them pick up the [21CD] guidelines and say, ‘How do we do this and how far can we go?’” He continues: “Across all categories, there are easy things that can be done that can have real impact. But to have greater impact, we need to reach beyond architects and developers and get policy to change.”

Bryan Lee Jr., founder of Colloqate, contributed significantly to the Equity and Health-and-Happiness sections of the matrix, in collaboration with Graves’ research team. “The world’s most pressing issues—climate change, wealth inequality, affordable housing, food production, and access to work, healthcare, and education—are often connected to the built environment,” says Lee. “When we look at the fact that 40 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings, we have to face the fact that most of what is destroying our climate is structures. For every injustice in the world, there’s a system and structure that facilitates it.”

“We wanted to identify the barriers and opportunities surrounding the creation of sustainable development on a regional scale,” says Cuningham Group Architecture’s Jeffrey Mandyck, AIA, who, along with Graves, Lee, and others, helped shape the initiative. “In Minnesota, we have several large-scale projects on the horizon that, if done with consideration of issues like sustainability and equity, could be transformative for our region.”

Mandyck is referring to projects like the redevelopment of the Ford site on the Mississippi River in St. Paul; the Towerside Innovation District, which stretches from the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis to the Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Paul; the development of the Destination Medical Center in Rochester; and the Rice Creek Commons development in Arden Hills. “We developed the 21CD model not as a directive or a certification program but as a matrix that we can use to identify the various ways we can do things differently with new development to achieve these goals,” he says.

“We understand that not every project can get to regenerative status, but every step in that direction can have a huge impact,” Mandyck adds. “21CD serves as an open-source tool that developers can use to identify steps they can take to improve their projects. There’s no single directive but rather multiple paths that developers, cities, architects, and individuals can take to build better new places.”

“We pushed 21CD to consider development in a much more holistic way, without boundaries,” says Eric Muschler, Region & Communities program officer at the McKnight Foundation, which provides funding for the project. “[At McKnight] we were thinking about pressing issues like climate change and affordable housing, and we realized the development community needed more powerful tools to create sustainable infrastructure. We don’t know exactly what the future will look like, but we have some pretty good previews that it will be different in terms of more people wanting to live in a city, closer to work, maybe without car ownership being a dominant force, and that environmental issues will play a much greater role.”

Muschler says that 21CD was developed to help influence new developments as well as guide redevelopment projects in a future in which existing structures such as big-box stores and parking ramps might no longer serve their purpose.

Lee notes that, when you expand the blueprint to see the whole, it’s easier to understand how architecture that is equitable, sustainable, and even regenerative can build a better future. This knowledge puts architects and developers in the position of also being advocates and activists. And Lee says that’s already happening.

“There is significant value in teaching young people to see the built environment writ large—to see beyond individual projects to the entire ecosystem they exist in. That is what the 21CD model helps us do,” says Graves. “The good news is, young people intrinsically understand this. Advocacy and activism are coming into the conversation. We are building the future, and they want to design things that improve quality of life.”

“The general public, too, is beginning to understand that we can’t plan buildings to be viable for only 10 years,” Graves adds. “That’s not a good return on investment, and it’s not good for our communities. Instead, we’re seeing demand for development that is designed for the next 100 years and is better for all of us,” says Graves. “I see a shift in mindset happening. The public understands the merits of designing communities to be walkable, engaging, and biophilic, not just in terms of ecological impacts but also in terms of social and emotional benefits to people. That’s what a 21st-century community will look like, and we hope the 21CD matrix helps us get there.”


Performance Areas: Timely Topics

21CD is broken into seven performance areas based on the Living Community Challenge. Five of the categories are further divided into subcategories, and all identify specific strategies that can lead to the development of regenerative communities.

The Matrix: Progressive Resilience

Any project or practice can engage with 21CD principles, identifying and implementing strategies that can lead to higher levels of performance. The matrix visualizes five levels of performance across all seven performance areas. The levels begin with today’s standard performance and progress to the regenerative level. Each step results in significant positive change toward building regenerative communities.

Case Studies: Global Inspiration

Developed by University of Minnesota researchers, the 21CD case studies review sustainable development projects around the world across the seven performance areas. These resources, which can be sorted by performance area or location, can be used to demonstrate success in what the 21CD authors refer to as radical incremental change.

For More Information

Learn more about the 21CD performance areas, development matrix, and case studies at The site also contains information on 21CD events, including a free, family-friendly offering at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis on May 18 and 19. Juxtaposition Arts will lead a hands-on activity in the museum’s rail corridor that invites people of all ages to design a thriving future city using the 21CD framework.