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Real Estate Journal


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ith over half of the world’s population living in urban ar- By Dustin Watson, DDG Urban “Greenfill”: The power and potential of an important new design and development philosophy W

need to be accompanied by changes in how we live. How will we fit more people into less space in ways that are practi- cal, affordable, and sustain- able? And how will we design and build the kinds of spaces that engage, excite and inspire? Urban Infill Goes Green Architects, developers, and urban planners have been ad- dressing the increase in the urban populace for some time. Sophisticated strategies have been developed that discour- age sprawl and encourage the creation of dense, livable envi- ronments. With limited funding for new development and large

numbers of abandoned and underutilized properties in cit- ies nationwide, urban infill has become an increasingly popular option. The benefits of urban infill and other reclamation, reuse, and redevelopment strategies have become increasingly ap- parent. But while green design, dense, mixed-use communities are nothing new to developers, there has been a general lack of cohesion in how these ideas have been applied. There is often an awkward accommo- dation, with discussions about trade-offs and cost-benefit analyses, but little big-picture

coordination. What is needed is a new way forward – a strategy that deliv- ers the compact communities and energized streetscapes of New Urbanism, the sensible land use and urban planning of Smart Growth, and the envi- ronmentally friendly priorities of green design. To that end, design and development profes- sionals are applying strategic design and site planning, and embracing the inspired re- use of existing infrastructure and site-specific topography to make developments not just greener, but better. The result is an approach that elevates

infill into greenfill. A greenfill approach rec- ognizes that green and infill priorities are not mutually exclusive with great spaces and places, and that combining thoughtful planning with in- spired design and development can recapture and add value. At the project level, greenfill finds ways to leverage elegant design concepts in environmentally friendly ways to create memo- rable built environments with a powerful sense of place. At the community level, greenfill creates vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods. At its core, greenfill marries livability with sustainability. It also makes good economic sense, relying less on high-tech solutions and more on sensible strategies of connection, inclusion, and reuse. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Greenfill leverages the liabili- ties of vacant or underutilized parcels into infrastructural, experiential assets. It not only develops undeveloped or under- developed properties. It weaves them back into the larger civic and community fabric. Greenfill’s effectiveness is based on the simple logic that rehabilitating or renovating existing buildings is almost always “greener” than building new ones. Relying on existing civic infrastructure, greenfill is able to use utility networks, roads, and transportation to great advantage. Together with well-established community and social frameworks, these existing resources can offer what amounts to a ready-made template for development. What results are places that work: buildings, streets, and communities that flow and en- gage as part of a larger urban landscape. It is a philosophy that maximizes density and livability, minimizes the impact on the environment, and capi- talizes on an existing sense of place to achieve a more mean- ingful, cohesive community destination. Making Connections A typical U.S. city has 15% of its land sitting vacant or abandoned. Greenfill policies can convert these properties into revenue-generating sites, counteracting the land-banking and real estate speculation that can fragment and stunt growth. As a land use strategy, green- fill stresses long-term sustain- ability rather than uncontrolled economic growth and resource continued on next page

eas, the civic stage is set for some big c h a n g e s . More people t h a n e v e r ar e l i v i ng , working, and playing in cit- ies. And with

Dustin Watson

powerful macroeconomic, so- cial, political, and demographic pressures continuing to exert their influence, that trend seems destined to continue. Changes in where we live

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