The demand for affordable rental housing continues to increase in U.S. cities, causing real estate developers to increase the production of housing units by up to 22 percent in some areas. This growth presents an exciting opportunity for developers, consultants, city planners and politicians to work together to create efficient, sustainable cities.
LEED certification and the use of “green” building materials are good places to start the initiative towards sustainability. Many construction companies have begun incorporating recycled materials in their buildings, using items like steel beams made from recycled metal that are not only durable, but reduce the need to fell down trees. In addition, companies are making a move toward using natural, locally sourced materials within units for flooring, cabinetry or tiling. Firms like Three Squared in Michigan are pushing boundaries when it comes to construction materials. First proposed in 2008, a project is now underway that uses recycled shipping containers to build housing. “Until you really build something, people don’t believe you can do it,” Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared, said about the innovative project.
In addition to building materials, developers have moved toward alternative energy solutions to power their projects. There is a current push towards using alternative HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems in an effort to move toward a “zero energy” sector – meaning buildings do not consume more energy than they create. This is showcased in buildings like Ankeny Row in Portland, Oregon. This community features super-insulated walls and high-performance windows to retain and reduce heating costs by 90 percent, and produce energy via solar arrays on the roof. Ankeny Row is so efficient, Portland Monthly says a home can be run with “the juice it takes to power a hairdryer.”
New buildings are not the only ones receiving this “green” treatment, as some companies are revitalizing older buildings to make them LEED certified. Conserving resources, reducing carbon emissions and being energy efficient are attractive qualities for residents of such buildings. Also adding to their attractiveness, buildings are now designed to utilize any space they can to provide “green space”: roof decks, “yards,” or urban gardens. This is a desirable option for city-dwellers who lack outdoor space in their homes, but also because these spaces can improve air quality, reduce pollution, and decrease the carbon footprint of the building.
Some developers have taken efficiency another step further, recognizing that the area surrounding the building is just as important as the design itself. “Buildings don’t exist in a vacuum,” was the point stressed by one developer, Rob Speyer, of Tishman Speyer, when discussing the necessity of considering the lifestyles of those occupying a building when planning its design. Speyer cited Rockefeller Center as a prime example of a building that takes full advantage of its location and serves the public in a number of ways – making the best use of space in a crowded city. In addition to its sustainable, energy-saving features, Rockefeller Center serves as a place for shopping, entertainment, and office space in one central location, cutting down on the need for transportation overall.
~Ray McNeal, Environmental and Real Estate Writer