Sustainable Urban Real Estate Development: Keys to Meeting Demand

Urban environments have always had an edge when it comes to environmental sustainability. Many cities have public transportation and use much less land per person for housing than their suburban counterparts. Indeed, noted urbanist and architect Vishaan Chakrabarti told Architect Magazine that “cities are the last and best hope for humanity, in terms of climate change, social mobility, for getting through our cultural and racial divides.”

In major cities, the number of LEEDS certified buildings is growing exponentially and boast 34 percent lower CO2 emissions, consume 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water, and have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills. Tenants increasingly expect green certifications and features and many corporations and governments lease only in green buildings to be consistent with their social responsibility commitments. As well, millennial tenants are driving further demand for sustainable housing, with green-friendly amenities such as bike paths.

Therefore, it makes sense that the urban real estate development industry would become more committed to sustainability, and in many ways it has. Yet the commitment to sustainability requires an understanding of a broad range of issues in ways that are new to many developers.

  • Public transportation: Building on public transit hubs, and providing pedestrian and bike friendly access to shopping and services and reducing automobile dependence is key. Some states even have designations, such as New Jersey’s Transit Village Initiative designed to help municipalities reduce car dependence and improve air quality by increasing transit ridership and utilizing better design.

  • Alternative transportation – such as ferries: New York’s River Taxi was a great commuter alternative reducing the strain on trains and buses. One project that I worked on was the idea of a commuter ferry for Wyndham Harbour, Victoria’s largest master planned marina community, and Melbourne – which would create a sustainable mode of transport that would reduce traffic congestion.

  • Certifications: There are a number of organizations that provide framework for developers that want to commit to building sustainable. In the U.K., Bioregional Foundation’s One Planet Living Program helps to plan and manage sustainable developments around the globe including in the U.K., Australia and U.S. In the U.S. Organizations such as EcoDistricts certify communities that put the planet and people at the center of development. The EcoDistricts Protocol allows for performance targets that allow communities to measure their success.

  • Water use: Green buildings themselves can reduce water use, but much more can be done in the development phase. For example, using recycled water for gardens and landscaping, and collecting rain water in underground tanks can be part of the planned features.  

  • Public Spaces: The Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment in Williamsburg is being noted for slimmer buildings which allow light in the public spaces, including the waterfront promenade which also serves to protect the development from flooding.

As the demand for green development continues to grow, it is crucial for the team, including the developers to have the right kind of expertise. Communities looking to develop sustainably should look to developers that have both experience in these developments, as well as education on the latest in sustainable trends.

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