Saturday, May 16, 2009

Precautionary Principle: San Francisco Ordinance

An AIA National Convention presentation by Debbie Raphael, San Francisco Department of the Environment highlights its ordinance passed in 2003 that offers a model for decision making in the face of uncertainty. Known as the Precautionary Principle, it allows for the use of scientific research as a basis for decision making about the risks of certain courses of action, without demanding specific causality. In this way, the model follows Principle 15 of the Rio Earth Summit 1992:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

It offers a decision making process that is explicit about the values of:
Preventing harm
Right to know / Full Disclosure
Public Participation
Expands the pool of people asking the question: Is it necessary?
Strengthens the foundation of existing precautionary measures.

This is an example of benchmarking the public policy process around the urban environment that includes all facets of a problem. The presentation can be downloaded here.

San Francisco has also developed an Urban EcoMap. It
will be made available to the general public at the Connected Urban Development conference in Seoul, 21st May 2009.