GreenYour Home buying
Buy a home in a mixed-use neighborhood
What has a smaller environmental impact—an energy-efficient home or a home’s location? Proponents of smart growth and new urbanism argue that when people buy a home where they work and shop, transportation impacts are reduced, which is just as important as living in an energy-efficient home. A mixed-use neighborhood is different from an intentional community where households share common areas. Instead, a mixed-use neighborhood features a variety of housing options (multi-family and single-family), compact construction (more homes per square foot of land), access to public transportation, and a mix of public buildings (libraries, schools) and commercial enterprises (restaurants), small businesses, grocery stores). The emphasis is on a walkable neighborhood and a reduced dependency on automobile transportation. For a visual understanding of a mixed-use neighborhood, take a virtual tour via National Geographic.
Mixed-use neighborhoods are seen as an antidote to suburban sprawl and are increasingly garnering the attention of home buyers. The 2004 American Community Survey, sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America, discovered that six in 10 prospective home buyers were interested in a mixed-use neighborhood that offered sidewalks, shops, restaurants, libraries, schools, and public transportation within walking distance. Shorter commutes and walkable neighborhoods won out over larger lot sizes.
How to find a home in a mixed-use neighborhood
Mixed-use neighborhoods can be found in urban or suburban settings. Often abandoned military bases, airports, or other large land sites are redeveloped into mixed-use neighborhoods. Real estate agents know where the new developments are and a good eco-broker should also be able to locate a home in an existing neighborhood located near a town center and public transit. Before WWII and the rise of the automobile, most neighborhoods were designed as mixed-use. From a green perspective, buying a home in an existing mixed-use neighborhood is preferable to buying in a newly built community since additional resources were not used to create the home—think buying used versus buying new.
Evaluate the neighborhood
Buying a home in a mixed-use neighborhood challenges the home buyer to evaluate not just the home, but the community as well. A simple evaluation can include a list of all the businesses you visit in an average week. Then ascertain if you can walk or ride your bike to most of them. A more systematic evaluation can consider the principles of smart growth as defined by the Smart Growth Network.
In 2009, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) is expected to implement a certification system for neighborhoods. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism, and green building. Developments will be independently evaluated for environmentally responsible and sustainable development principles, such as: Smart Location and Linkage, Neighborhood Pattern and Design, and Green Construction and Technology. Until the program is functioning, home buyers can use the LEED-ND pilot program’s rating system to evaluate neighborhoods.
Mixed-Use in a rural setting
New Ruralism and Agriburbia are two new concepts being marketed mostly in rural areas on the edge of cities. Both combine compact, mixed-use neighborhoods and sustainable agriculture, which is a way of growing food with three goals in mind: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. New Ruralism and Agriburbia counter traditional developments that consume farmland. Renée Robin, a land-use attorney in San Francisco, is quoted in an article by The New American Foundation: [Previously,] "a master-planned community would be put in, and it would just swallow up all the agricultural land right up to the farm on the other side of the fence. Now, people are asking, ‘Why not have the farm be on our side of the fence?’ It makes the whole community more desirable."
Listed here are some newer developments that fit the definition of a mixed-use neighborhood.
Arcadia Land Company describes itself as "Town Builders and Land Stewards." The company's developments feature compact, walkable towns with mixed-use neighborhoods that also enable greater open space preservation.
The Congress for the New Urbanism is the leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. Members include developers, architects, public officials, and community activists who help create a searchable database of new projects that feature new urbanism (mixed-use) neighborhoods.
This diverse company has experience in commercial and residential building and uses it to build mixed-use communities that feature green homes. The homes in one Denver development, Stapleton, are ENERGY STAR approved.
This builder designs, develops, and builds traditional, walkable, and mixed-use neighborhoods in northern California. The company offers a broad range of practical homes, workplaces, and civic spaces. One project, westsideGreen in Chico, features homes built with ENERGY STAR appliances as well as other energy- and water-efficient features.
This developer focuses on building small pedestrian friendly neighborhoods with a mix of housing types. The communities have interconnected streets, prominent public spaces, and clearly defined centers and edges. The company has operations in southern Florida, northeastern Illinois, and the Phoenix metro area.
Specializing in urban transformation, this development company works on sites primarily in the Southeast US. Its mixed-use communities offer a range of services to attract a diverse group of consumers and businesses. One proposed development, Artist Square, will be located five minutes from downtown Atlanta.
This rural development features the concepts of New Ruralism and was built to flow with the terrain so the natural landscape is minimally disturbed. The homes are built with energy efficiency, low maintenance, and water conservation in mind, using resource-efficient building materials and systems. Serenbe Farms is a 25-acre working, organic farm located in the development.
Buying a home in a mixed-use neighborhood helps you go green because…
- It reduces the use of personal transportation, which cuts the use of non-renewable fossil fuels and their subsequent greenhouse gas emissions.
- New mixed-use neighborhoods tend to feature compact design or dense communities, which helps to preserve farmland and other natural areas.
Walk more...drive less
A report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed several studies that compared compact, mixed-use developments, and low-density sprawl. The analysis found that when people live in compact developments that offer a diversity of uses, accessible destinations, and interconnected streets, they drive about 33 percent less. Residents of these walkable communities don’t just drive fewer miles, they also take more trips by foot and bicycle, which improves individual health. Driving to work, grocery shopping, taking the dog to the vet, and picking up a new hammer at the hardware store, burns fossil fuels. Every gallon of gasoline burned produces about 20 pounds of CO2 emissions. It’s estimated that if 60 percent of new growth included compact, mixed-use neighborhoods, the US could save 85 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030.
Saving farmland and natural areas
By 2050, 89 million new or replaced homes, as well as 190 billion square feet of new offices and other nonresidential buildings, will need to be built to accommodate population growth in the US. Some of this building will be redevelopment of existing commercial or residential land. But farmland and wilderness areas will also be gobbled up. Every minute the US loses 2 acres of agricultural land to development, which is about two and one-half football fields. In fact, land is being bought for development almost three times faster than population growth. This could be due to the fact that in the past 20 years, the average acreage per person for new housing has almost doubled. Buying a home in a new development that includes compact, mixed-use neighborhoods not only reduces transportation emissions, but also reduces the destruction of farmland and natural areas.
Location, location, location
As the need for new housing and commercial buildings grows, so will a city’s boundaries. As a result, new mixed-use developments may be located on the outskirts of cities, far from large employment centers and public transportation, and residents will not experience significant reductions in driving. As quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution notes, “It may be sustainable once you enter, but if the location requires everyone to drive there, it undermines the sustainability of the broader community."
The green house versus the mixed-use neighborhood
If homes are responsible for 21 percent of the nation’s energy use and the average house releases twice as much CO2 as the average car into the atmosphere, what’s more important: purchasing an energy-efficient home or purchasing a home in mixed-use neighborhood where the homeowner can drive less? There are no easy answers, but here are the facts:
- A typical house emits 10.4 metric tons of CO2 each year. The average passenger vehicle emits about half as much: 5.2 metric tons.
- A home built or remodeled to green standards, such as an ENERGY STAR- or LEED- certified home, can cut energy use by 15 to 30 percent.
- Residents of mixed-use communities drive 26 to 33 percent fewer miles each day compared to those living in the most sprawling areas.
- In 2001, the average US household had 1.9 vehicles and the average vehicle miles traveled per household grew from 12,412 miles in 1969 to 21,252 per year.
Ultimately, homebuyers will want to consider both energy efficiency and driving habits and look for greener options in both areas. Proponents of new urbanism argue that homeowners need to look beyond the walls and see the house in its larger environment. Architect and new urbanism advocate Andrés Duany says in a Time magazine article: "It doesn't matter how green you are if your house in the suburb still generates 14 car trips a day, which is the American average. But that's complicated to get across, because it's not high-tech."
- Homes in mixed-use neighborhoods typically have small backyards, which may not be suitable for families that prefer backyard space for children and pets, nor for those who like to grow their own food in a backyard garden. However, mixed-use neighborhoods often feature nearby public parks and community gardens, which may fill these needs.
- Easy access to public transportation and other services in mixed-use neighborhoods tend make them popular places to live so home prices may be slightly higher than in surrounding areas.
Did you know?
- new urbanism: A community design philosophy that favors new home development with prominent front porches, backyard garages, multi-use buildings, and housing clustered near commercial service areas.
- smart growth: Land-use planning that seeks to avoid sprawl. New smart growth is more town-centered, transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial, and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities.
- Smart Growth America
- Congress for the New Urbanism
- Smart Growth Online - Resource Library
- National Public Radio - Porches Knit Together New Urbanist Communities
- CTG Energetics - Adapting to climate change through neighborhood design
- Association Times - Understanding the Mixed Use Association: What to consider before purchase
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Smart Growth: Making Smart Growth Happen A list of technical, funding and partnership resources.
- Smart Communities Network - Land Use Planning Strategies: Mixed-Use Development A list of on-line articles and publications.
- The Wall Street Journal - Selling History by the Square Foot
- Smart Growth America - Press Release: Homebuyers Favor Shorter Commutes, Walkable Neighborhoods
- New America Foundation - Can the City Save the Farm?
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change page 17
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change page 11
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change page 21
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change page 19
- American Farmland Trust - Farmland Protection Issues
- Sizes.com - acre
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change page 13
- Banjo, Shelly, “Environment (A Special Report); You Are How You Live: Green thinking is at the core of thousands of new communities” Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition). New York, NY: Mar 24, 2008 pg. R.13
- ENERGY STAR - Residential Home Improvement: An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Unit Conversions, Emissions Factors, and Other Reference Data, 2004
- The Green Guide - 10 Questions for House Hunters
- National Household Travel Survey - Do More Vehicles Make More Miles?
- Time - How Green is your Neighborhood
- The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations - The Truman Show
- The Seaside Institute - About Us
- Online Real Estate Database & Dictionary - New Urbanism
- Smart Growth Online - About Smart Growth