The Green Picture with Erin Brereton: Want to Make a Big Difference? Build Green Communities

Green design has become more popular in recent years in large multifamily and commercial building planning.

Take, for example, the Conference Center at the newly re-opened TreePeople Center for Community Forestry in Los Angeles, which recently was awarded LEED Platinum certification.

TreePeople is an environmental non-profit. Its Conference Center provides a gathering place for local, national and international leaders to meet and create plans for sustainable cities.

Which brings us to another growing green practice: Building sustainable communities.

Using green design when planning new multifamily buildings can help maximize energy efficiency and decrease any negative impact a single high-rise structure may have on the environment.

But use green design to construct entire new communities, and you can have an even greater impact. It’s big-picture thinking–that can offer big results.

New Neighborhood Focus

This week, multi-housingnews.com covered South Bronx-based Melrose Commons’ efforts to redevelop itself into a green haven.

Because of its sustainable design and urban neighborhood development work, the project was selected to be a member of the Focus Group for the new LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot program.

Melrose Commons’ renovations have been designed to create healthy indoor and outdoor spaces—no small feat in an urban area struggling with pollution.

When the community is complete, its green design features will affect an impressive amount of people: With 1,379 units, planners forecast 4,000 to 6,000 residents will live in Melrose Commons.
Green Design Tricks

When building on a larger scale–such as a community redesign–developers can include design elements to encourage community residents to live a greener lifestyle, such as:

•    Reducing the need for cars by building walking and biking paths. Promoting walking and biking can help reduce air pollution. And, because it provides daily exercise, residents get a bonus health effect.

•    Encouraging use of public transportation by building developments close to trains and buses. According to the Chicago Tribune, several of the multifamily developments in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Ill., revitalized a fairly vacant downtown area into a web of condo complexes and walkable entertainment options near the train station.

Residents can simply hop on the Metra and commute to work downtown in less than an hour.
•    Adopting use of recycled and sustainable materials on a greater scale. The company preparing to build the first multifamily, modular housing developments in Portland has proposed doing just that.
The homes’ decks will be made from recycled plastic and cellulose, according to Portland’s Daily Journal of Commerce.

•    And reducing a project’s overall carbon footprint and utility use. The under-construction Gatsby Hollywood single-family home complex in Los Angeles hopes become Los Angeles’ first completely solar-powered urban community. Gatsby’s developers say that solar roof panels will help lower homeowners’ monthly utility bills by as much as 60 percent.

But single-family communities aren’t the only ones getting in on the green action. Habitat for Humanity, for example, plans to outfit the Staghorn Villas townhomes in Pine Hills, Fla., with high-grade insulation to cut the community’s carbon footprint and energy use.

More Money To Go Green

There is evidence that companies may be buying into the effectiveness of green urban planning, too.
Just this week, ComEd announced its first Community Energy Challenge, in which a dozen Chicago suburbs will work to develop and implement cost-effective energy efficiency pilot projects to support municipal sustainability objectives.

Certain lenders are encouraging going green, too. Wells Fargo, for one, has doubled its financing for LEED-certified buildings since May 2007.

It looks like that TreePeople conference space–the one designed to allow leaders to gather and discuss how to make cities greener–may get busy.

Because whether you’re planning a community's rebirth or determining a mixed-use complex’s look and feel, factoring in green design can improve residents' lives– and reduce the development’s impact on the environment.