The Living City Block

Currently, about 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. But experts predict that by 2050, that number will rise to 80 percent. To add a twist, the Urban Land Institute predicts that 75 percent of the buildings in use today will still be in use in 2050. Determining how to maximize the effectiveness of existing buildings is, and will be, critical to developing a thriving, sustainable environment in the future. Luckily, we have a couple of years to work on the plan.

The Living City Block organization (LCB) specializes in partnering with local communities and businesses to retrofit existing buildings and neighborhoods. The organization’s inaugural project, Living City Block Lo Do Denver, earned corporate sponsors such as AT&T Colorado and several other organizations, which provided in-kind support for the project.

In the summer of 2010, LCB started to retrofit of a block and a half of Denver’s lower downtown district, also known as Lo Do. The goals of the organization are to:

  • decrease energy consumption,
  • improve water and waste efficiencies,
  • increase community interaction, and
  • add permeable surfaces and green spaces.

LCB choose this area because it offered several different building use types, such as office, retail, restaurants, low-income and high-end housing. The potential to take the lessons learned from this pilot project and apply them to city block after city block is just incredible.

LCB’S approach is innovative. To develop a world in ways envisioned by the organization, the focus must be on several levers simultaneously: energy & resource savings, economic sustainability and livable community.  Most projects I’ve heard about only focus on one of the components. The success of this model is that it realizes the importance of all three areas.

Energy & Resource Savings

LCB’s energy consumption goal is to be at a block-wide aggregate net zero energy usage by 2014.  By 2016, the plan is for the block to generate more energy than it uses. This is accomplished by including elements such as permeable surfaces to gather and use rainwater, as well as an emphasis on adding strategically placed green space. This may seem ambitious, but when you think of where we were with recycling 20 years ago (if you were one of the first to recycle, then you remember having to haul your recyclables to a recycling center) and where we are today (commonplace curbside recycling and sorting), it lends credence to LCB’s vision of the not so distant future.  The question is, will the company be able to take these ideas and make them as commonplace as recycling is today?

Economic Sustainability

A thriving, healthy community will draw businesses to it and thereby increase its tax base. Properties in desirable communities generally maintain or increase in value.  Unfortunately, the current economic climate doesn’t allow us to implement sustainable solutions for the “goodness” factor only.  We need to provide economic justification for these initiatives as well.  But the bottom line is that we need to do things differently. And implementing new solutions and new approaches to old problems can actually save money.

Livable Community

LCB involves all areas of the community, from the city’s historic foundation to its local businesses and citizens.  LCB emphasizes practicality. Most people don’t want to live in a space-age community, where the quest to achieve a perfect world restricts the residents’ freedom so much that they’re no longer interested in living there. By coming together, LCB can achieve dramatic results.

The Future of Living City Blocks

LCB’s next two projects, one in Washington D.C. and another in Brooklyn, NY, are already in the works. Will our grandchildren hear about a LCB neighborhood and not really think of it as a big deal because it’s become their normal? I sure hope so.

Have you seen one of the LCB communities?
Have you heard of similar projects that we might be interested in?
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