Sustainable Development is Just Plain Smart, Worth Cost

Baseline Resident Dog Walker
June 6, 2023 Posted In

The definition of progress has evolved. It’s not just about economic development any longer. Real progress means a thoughtful response to a spectrum of pressing challenges, such as loss of biodiversity, shrinking water resources, climate change and lack of middle-income housing.

There’s great value in sustainable development beyond simply doing the right thing. The initial cost can be higher. But development is an act of investment: not playing for narrow-focused, near-term profit but for a return that supports a range of stakeholders. Just the practical benefits of sustainable development – lower maintenance costs, higher property values and conserved resources – makes the upfront investment more than worth it. And from a purely business-minded perspective, it helps to let stakeholders – homebuilders, homebuyers, commercial tenants and other interests – become part of your sustainability story. In fact, they can become your biggest advocates.

So, out with the disconnected suburban model. In with smaller yards, bigger parks and better connectivity; water-wise, pollinator-friendly landscapes; and a greater variety and wider price range of beautiful, energy-efficient home designs.

Here are a few of the things that developers can employ to create a more sustainable future. Pollinator district. At Baseline, McWhinney’s 1,1000- acre master planned community in Broomfield, we’re working with entomologists at Butterfly Pavilion (a future tenant) to plant native and xeric flora throughout our community, re-creating habitat that has been wiped out by traditional monoculture. The results have been astounding.

In a recent census by citizen scientists, Baseline has more than doubled the number and species of resident pollinators compared to the census taken prior to beginning of development.

Water consumption. In addition to being pollinator-friendly, xeric and native landscaping conserves water, now a critically limited resource. It’s important to plant native grasses and use rock mulch instead of thirsty turf grass wherever possible. Use nonpotable water to irrigate common areas and plantings. The result: Communities can expect to use half as much water as those that are not following the same guidelines.

Water drainage. Putting water-wise, pollinator-friendly ideas into action is simpler than you might imagine. Storm runoff filters through an ecosystem of diverse soil and plants, acting like kidneys to purify the water before it flows into streams and creeks. Bioswales can be employed to convey water in ways that enable this natural filtration while obviating the need for underground pipes and carbon-intensive concrete. These natural stormwater systems create healthy habitats for essential native species like dragonflies (which in turn control mosquito populations).

Public realm. Thoughtfully considered parks and open lands are even more important in higher-density communities. Smaller yards should translate to bigger parks, and amenitizing these open areas is important in a high-density community. Such open areas could include sport courts; dog parks; wide, paved paths for strolling; singletrack for biking; and places to simply relax in nature. It must be a natural oasis in the midst of an urban community, as nature becomes even more important where there’s higher density. Placement of smaller pocket parks can also provide immediate access to the outdoors for residents in ways that are more intimate and help create a sense of community.

Trails and gardenways. Nonmotorized greenways, also called gardenways, invite human-powered mobility and allow folks to connect throughout the community without getting in their cars. This network of pedestrian greenways also connects residents and guests to other amenities like parks, perhaps a grocery store, restaurants, nightlife, professional services – even to work – and further reduces the reliance on cars.

Carbon reduction. Developers should be working with homebuilders who understand the importance of energy efficiency, together striving to lower Home Energy Rating Scores. A good target is a HERS score around 50, which is below new construction averages. There are opportunities to partner with municipalities and metro districts to source their energy through a utility company’s renewable energy portfolio. Government incentives make it more than economically feasible to take this step and help ensure a more resilient energy future.

The big picture. It starts with a big plan, where all these ideas come together to create a walkable, bikeable, urban-dense, mixed-use, park-rich, water-wise, energy-smart, pollinator-friendly community. The result is sustainable synergy – each part contributing to a greater whole.

Now imagine if Baseline could become proof-of-concept for future developments. As a matter of fact, it already has.

And that’s what we call progress.

Featured in Colorado Real Estate Journal, Building Dialogue June 2023

(Contributor: Kyle Harris, McWhinney SVP of Community Development & Baseline GM)

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