LiveWork: The Eco-Development of the Future

According to the latest McGraw Hill Report, green home construction is on the upswing—it’s projected to receive a five-fold boost by 2016. However, there is debate as to how green these homes are. Surely, it’s more sustainable to buy an existing home and add green features to it (after recycling or reusing the items and materials replaced, of course). Additionally, many home developers are building these so-called sustainable homes and neighborhoods in suburban areas, much to the ire of many environmentalists—how green can it be if the owner still has to drive their vehicle everywhere?

Just when I was feeling a bit bummed about sustainable home building, I read this article in Fast Company, which profiles the LiveWork project, a sustainable housing plan out of Athens, Georgia that is the brainchild of two architectural students, Eric Laine and Suzanne Steelman. Taking into account the environment, economics and social factors, LiveWork consists of three single-family units that feature living spaces above commercial space. The family that lives on the second floor can choose to open their own business, lease the space to another business or let the Homeowner Association lease it to another business. With unemployment still high and many people foregoing the job hunt in favor of starting their own businesses, this is the ideal option. Additionally, since the business is so close to home, families with children may be able to save on childcare expenses as well as have the opportunity to use the time they would have spend commuting (an average of 30 minutes each way) with their kids instead.

LiveWork is intended to encourage sustainable living. The net-zero design is made of steel, which can be recycled, reclaimed or disassembled and used in another project. Additionally, it’s insulated with sheep’s wool, a material that features an R-value of a whopping 34.5! That’s a super tightly insulated home. Water is collected on the roof and stored underground for non-potable use, and a green screen encourages passive solar. Energy is derived from 95 photovoltaic panels, and is shared by all residents as well as sold back to the grid. Since the building is occupied, either by residents or businesses, 24-hours a day, energy is more efficiently used.

This is a great idea that really plays off traditional planning models. When the majority of people lived in cities, it wasn’t unusual for people to live above businesses, specifically their business. It makes sense and is a far easier commute than having to trudge along in traffic with thousands of other disgruntled and tired commuters who are sucking down coffee, McMuffins and Powerbars. I think as more people, especially the younger generation (who are essentially economically screwed, but also overflowing with confidence, bless their little hearts), reclaiming urban areas and looking to escape the monotony of the cubicle farm, the LiveWork concept will become a desirable solution and means of maintaining a sustainable economic and environmental existence without having to sacrifice relationships.

Three Advantages of an American Bicycle Culture

Long Beach, California is getting attention in planning circles due to its commitment to creating bike-friendly districts within the community. Certainly it helps that the mayor, Bob Foster, is a cyclist himself. Under his watch, the city has revamped its image and put in bike trails, new bike racks, protected bike lanes and now bike-friendly shopping districts. The city has reached out to local businesses to demonstrate how attracting more bike traffic can add to their bottom line. Bike racks boost visibility and draw customers to the stores. As someone who cycles to most places, it’s really nice to see bike racks outside of shops instead of having to lock my ride to the nearest tree or fence.

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Cities such as Minneapolis, Portland and Long Beach are demonstrating that bikes belong in our communities. The advantages of a bike-friendly community:

  1. A healthier populace. America is fat. The majority of Americans are big fat fatties, shoving fast food down their gobs as they drive their giant SUVs around town and blame having increasingly sedentary lives on their jobs and other obligations. By getting out and making short-distance trips by bicycle, people will find that they have more energy as they burn calories and get things done.
  2. Less traffic congestion. More bikes on the road mean fewer vehicles, which in turn translates to less traffic congestion for those who have to drive.
  3. Vibrant communities. The easiest way to get to know your local community is to get out of your vehicle. You can’t meet the people on your street if you’re stuck sitting between four walls. On your bicycle or on foot, you can greet your neighbors, which leads to a safer neighborhood.

There’s a fourth, more obvious advantage, which is cleaner air. The fewer the vehicles that are on the road, the less pollution that fills the air, leading to healthier lungs and less incidence of asthma and other lung ailments.

While we’re not quite at the level of creating a bicycle superhighway like Sweden, our cities can get to the point where cycling is encouraged in the community.

Has the Commute Become the New Housing Deal Breaker?

The latest National Association of Realtors® 2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found that buyers are taking their commute to work into account when purchasing a home. Reaffirmed by a report from the Urban Land Institute, the shift to a shorter commute will change the way our communities are built. For many, particularly Millennials, the thought of travelling an average of 45 minutes per day to and from work by car is not an attractive one. [I’ve had two jobs where my commute was 40 minutes each way and it was horrible—in the second job, it wasn’t unusual for my commute home to be an hour and a half on a Friday, which left me in frustrated tears spewing F-bombs at my fellow commuters.] Whether it’s for the environment or for their sanity, people are choosing homes closer to work or public transit, if they must commute a distance.

Cars are supposed to equal freedom, right? How many of us feel free when we’re trapped in our vehicles during rush hour traffic, watching the guy in the Volvo next to us clip his nasal hair in the rear view mirror and the mom in the SUV on the other side of us yelling at her children in the backseat? Millennials and other working professionals are shunning this fate, instead choosing to live in smaller spaces that afford them a better lifestyle and allow them the time to pursue their hobbies. Better still, many professionals who work for technologically progressive companies are working from home—the easiest commute of all.

The McMansion: A big house in suburbia is no longer the American Dream for Millennials

Time will tell if this trend is a flash-in-the-pan or one that’ll last. Who knows—when the economy recovers or energy prices decrease, people may go back to their McMansions in bedroom communities 40 miles away from their jobs. Guess we’ll have to see.