Web Feature: Sustainability Charrette? Way to Go Green

New York--Developer Full Spectrum recently held a sustainability charrette in New York City for its Old Capitol Green project located in downtown Jackson, Miss.

Sustainability Charrette in New York City

New York–Developer Full Spectrum recently held a sustainability charrette in New York City for its Old Capitol Green project located in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. A charrette is not something we hear about these days. This French word for cart or chariot is derived from the time when it wasn’t unusual for student architects to continue working furiously, at the last minute, on illustrations for their design presentations, even while riding in school carts through the streets of Paris. Old Capitol Green is not located in Paris, far from it actually in Jackson, Mississippi. And there are no carts to speak of either. But somehow the word sustainability charrette stuck.

In this case, the charrette was meant to review the sustainable goals for the Old Capitol Green project, hence it’s being called sustainability charrette. The idea was to share information to enable cross-disciplinary integration, and to establish the sustainability priorities and goals for Old Capitol Green.

Old Capitol Green is a $1 billion, 14-square block master-planned, mixed-use development in the central business district of downtown Jackson, immediately adjacent to the historic Old Capitol Building. It is a forward-looking ‘New Urbanism’ development, which will demonstrate the best practices in environmental sustainability, complying with LEED for Neighborhood Development. It is the only site zoned for high-density mixed-use development with public utility infrastructure to support the dense mixed-use development in this city.

Rendering of Old Capitol Green

“The project is an area of Jackson that was among the earliest portions of the city,” Carlton Brown, COO of Full Spectrum and Jackson, Miss. native, tells MHN. “In the mid to late 1700s, this was a trading town along the Pearl River but this portion of town has now unfortunately been abandoned. It was housing, warehousing and several other things before its abandonment. The land, which is about 14 blocks, is adjacent to the old capitol building.” Jackson, like most other cities in the south, is suburban in nature, with a density of 2.3-2.5 units per acre. In this 14-square block area, Full Spectrum put together a master plan and a new zoning ordinance that increased the density to 85 units per acre. “It’s the first mixed-use, moderate-density (but they would call it high-density in Jackson,) zoning district and development in the city. It’s within a 10-minute bicycle ride from hospitals and universities, which are the major employers there,” says Brown.

The charrette mulled over ways to make this project more sustainable. Full Spectrum brought in the entire design team, structural engineers, critical members of the alliance of the sustainable built environment and a top engineering consulting firm focusing on sustainability to facilitate the entire charrette.

“The objectives included improving development strategies, energy performance and air quality; reducing water consumption; improving building envelope performance and finding ways to make it a healthier building in general. We talked about how these things could be integrated with both manufacturing and rolling out new technologies,” says Brown.

The Goals:

  • Reduce energy consumption by 50 percent below Anshrae 90.1 of 2007.
  • Reduce water consumption by 50 percent and develop a strategy to comply with new model code Ashrae 189.
  • Develop strategies to generate 15 percent of the base building energy using onsite renewable sources.
  • Develop strategy to make at least 20 percent of the housing affordable to people earning 80 percent of AMI and 50 percent of the housing available to people earning 100 percent of AMI.
  • Have measurable performance standards. We wanted to have metrics to continuously measure.

“The ethereal goals are more difficult to measure but they include: get major manufacturers to become part of the alliance for the sustainable built environment in the same room as designers, financers and those marketing the project,” explains Brown.

Full Spectrum wanted to be sure that they have a completely integrated process from product development to project delivery. So the company waited to hold the charrette till they had completed market focus groups and this way the marketing team could understand the demand, and that knowledge could be put into an integrated process.

“We started down the feeding chain and connected everyone responsible for renting and leasing units to Koehler—supplying the bathroom and kitchen appliances and fixtures,” says Brown. Because one of Full Spectrum’s objectives was to reduce water consumption, they were looking at dual flush toilets that were also ADA compliant—a product that Koehler did not have. However, Koehler is now working on a product to match those needs. “The only reason that happened is that Koehler was in the room with the people who had to deliver the product to the people. That happens everyday in other capital-intensive industries, but not in this one,” explains Brown.

While this particular charrette, which is the second one for the company, focused on the project in Jackson, the company’s objective is two-fold. They want to apply these goals and procedures to all the work they do. Moreover, Full Spectrum would really like to get other people to look at this as a viable process to emulate and expand on. “We’d like this to serve as a means of transformation in this industry, so that we as an industry reduce our carbon footprint, water and energy consumption etc.,” says Brown.

Brown believes that the goals are well on their way to being accomplished. At the end of the charrette, they reviewed where they were in the design process, and energy and water calculations, and turns out 90 percent of the objectives were fulfilled.

When Old Capitol Green opens in mid- to late-2012, it will feature about 185 to 200 rental units. What will work in the project’s favor is the fact that Jackson, like a lot of cities in the south has been fortunate through the downturn. “In the run up to the crash, Jackson did not have too much capital put into it. In New York we saw so much big money chasing bad deals, but Jackson is a Tier Two city and no one was paying attention to it,” says Brown. In fact, they should have been looking Jackson’s way because of its diverse economy. The city’s metro area has about 534,000 people, of which roughly 30 percent work in healthcare, the one industry that has continued to grow through the recession. The city is anchored by colleges and universities, and in fact, according to a report from the Brookings Institution, Jackson has been in the top four or five performing metros with appreciating housing values. “All this because the healthcare industry has been adding jobs,” says Brown.

When people think about Jackson, they think rural, farming, illiterate and everything that puts the city at the bottom of the list, says Brown. But to a lot of people’s surprise, about 50 percent of the city’s workers are knowledge workers because of heavy concentration of healthcare, education and government. Those sectors are doing well and there is a lot of demand for downtown living. In addition, Jackson like many other southern cities hasn’t had residential development in the downtown area. In fact, it was illegal to have mixed-use development till recently. All this has changed in the last four or five years and since Jackson is so heavily reliant on knowledge businesses, which are fueled by young people like Phds or doctors, demand for downtown living has gone up. “In downtown Jackson, there has been no new construction of residential buildings,” says Brown.

The Old Capitol Green project is about to change that, also possibly single-handedly revitalizing Jackson’s downtown. And thanks to the charrette, it will all be green.

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