Sustainability Downtown

09/25/2014

Active downtowns emerged as a result of the need for economic and social interaction. As time passed, these downtowns were scorned for big box commercial centers on the edge of town. At Cromwell, we are noticing a renewed interest in these downtowns. There are many strategies to help revive these areas including placing emphasis on sustainable practices. Incorporating sustainability into urban areas does not have to cost a fortune and should specifically fit the unique needs of each town.

The first step in the renewal process is to assess the existing buildings, infrastructure, open space, and strengths of the community, all while considering the needs and desires of any current downtown tenants. Existing buildings represent opportunities to maintain the historical context and character of your town. It’s important to note that not all buildings are meant to be restored; this needs to be an informed decision because the historical value of these buildings will be lost forever. Nothing is more critical to this process than selecting a quality team to help determine the feasibility of restoration. It is a good idea to select a multidiscipline firm, such as Cromwell, to help you make these hard decisions.

Historical buildings are beautiful, but they also use more energy than a modern building. While that is often considered a negative in redevelopment, there are many opportunities to reclaim some of that lost energy. Some of these improvements are low cost, while others may require significant financial investment. You should work with a team of experienced professionals to perform an analysis to understand the costs, benefits, and savings anticipated with each decision.

Lighting represents an opportunity for dramatically increasing energy efficiency while lowering overhead and maintenance requirements. LED (light emitting diode) lighting prices are plummeting as the technology becomes more developed. While costs can still prohibit many municipalities from making the switch, prices will continue to drop and municipalities should begin to budget for lighting changes in the next few years or sooner. The long term financial savings and reduction in maintenance will result in a quick return on investment.

If vacant lots are located within the revitalization area, they should be utilized to spur community involvement. These lots represent great opportunities for environmentally responsible decisions such as community gardens, pocket parks, or a farmers’ market. Gardens provide a place where citizens can grow vegetables or flowers. Pocket parks vary greatly in size, even as small as a single parking space, and can be used to expose citizens to the long term redevelopment possibilities. These open spaces can also be utilized to help promote downtown business such as providing outdoor seating for a café, restaurant, or book store.

A more costly decision is to incorporate LID (low impact design) strategies when performing street, storm sewer, and sidewalk work. For approximately the same cost as traditional construction, LID strategies can reduce the need for storm water infrastructure while improving the street experience. LID is slowly being adopted by communities across the state including Fayetteville and Little Rock. The Portland Green Streets Program has a great deal of information available on their experiences implementing LID strategies.

The downtown related decisions a community makes should promote economic development, community spirit, and a high quality of life for your citizens. The reemergence of downtowns is a trend that will likely continue to grow, and Cromwell has the team and the history to help make these educated decisions. Is it time for your community to reexamine your downtown?