Wednesday 30 July 2014

Choose housing that is designed for sustainable transport

Summary: In addition to carefully choosing where to live, choosing housing designed to facilitate cycling, walking or public transport usage can be a key determinant of how successful you'll be at realising their benefits rather than resorting to driving. This post provides examples of housing design that is worth actively seeking out whether buying or renting an existing home or building/renovating your own.

Moreland Energy Foundation: Sustainability at The Commons

Related Posts:
> See the "lifestyle choices" category on this blog.

1. The design and operation of urban housing can contribute significantly to sustainability and active transportation
- The urban development in Melbourne which I'll provide most examples from is "The Commons" - a block of 24 apartments in Brunswick (inner north Melbourne) designed to maximise sustainability. See: The Commons: A new eco-village is born. I saw this during the recent Open House Melbourne event.

Some of the features of The Commons (taken from a recent apartment listing) include:
- A massive roof top garden providing a genuine communal meeting place and incorporating BBQ facilities and planter boxes to grow your own food
- Sizeable balcony terrace with sunken garden bed
- Double glazed windows with sound proofing and insulation - all openable for cross ventilation
- Gas boosted solar hot water and hydronic heating
- Grey water and rain water storage tanks
- Dedicated bicycle storage and lockable storage cage
- Go Get Car Share with free membership and 12 hours driving credit
- Commercial grade community laundry and roof top clothes line
- Solar panels for free electricity generation
- Ground floor cafe and artists' studios
- Local fresh food markets, restaurants, cafe and public transportation minutes away
The Commons - communal rooftop with garden, BBQ, planter boxes

- The Moreland Energy Foundation produced a report on The Commons that provides specific insights into how the decisions, design, construction and operation of urban housing can significantly contribute to sustainability:
Urban developments built now and into the future will have a lasting effect on the sustainability of our cities. They can also influence how comfortable, convenient, safe and affordable our lives are. Creating a great place to live that is sustainable and affordable was a key ambition at The Commons, and the project will demonstrate a new approach to urban development.
Moreland Energy Foundation: Sustainability at The Commons (pdf)
2. Reducing the need to travel very far for common trips, recreation and socialisation
- Housing location is, of course, a key determinant as I've discussed in the lifestyle choices category on this blog. But apart from very careful selection of location, The Commons also incorporates less common strategies including:

(a) A cafe within this 24 apartment block that is available to residents in the evenings after it closes.
(b) A communal rooftop garden designed to actually be used by all residents for recreation.
(c) A shared laundry that literally forces all residents to get to know their neighbours and inevitably leads to socialisation among residents.
(d) Intentional positioning of the building right next to a shared walking and cycling path that leads to nearby recreational parks and centres.
(e) Designing the apartments for potential home office usage.

3. Reducing private vehicle use through providing only bike parking, car-share provision and public transport incentives
- The biggest contributor to residents actual reliance on cycling, walking and public transport was the total elimination of car parking spaces by designing the housing so conscientiously that driving becomes clearly unnecessary. The architects and developers used this bulletproof design to fight for a special exemption from the local government parking requirements. When car parking is available and free (already paid for) it is a very difficult force to resist. See: The curse of free or subsidised car parking

- Alan Davies, a leading Australian transport and urban development consultant, has argued that a major reason why very few Australians use bikes for local trips (even many who commute to work by bike) is that most Australians have easy access to their car and cars are convenient for local trips:
The great majority of households in Australia have at least one car. In Melbourne, for example, it’s around 90%, so it’s easy enough for most adults to plump for subjective safety and drive to local destinations. Traffic congestion isn’t as significant a deterrent to driving for local trips as it is for peak hour commuting. More than 90% of capital city residents live in the suburbs and most non-work and non-education trips have a degree of flexibility in timing.
The Urbanist: Why do we cycle to work but not to the shops?
- Eliminating this easy access to a car by replacing basement car parking with bike parking reduces housing costs significantly and is the key to switching residents from driving to cycling, walking and public transport. Making bike parking as readily accessible as possible is also vital. At The Commons the bike parking is at ground level so bikes do not need to be carried up or down.

- A dedicated car share space was established right outside the apartments and The Commons owners corporation pays for a car share membership for each apartment (but not usage charges).

- The owners corporation also pays for annual public transport (Myki) cards for each apartment. This will rarely be available in most housing options but is an example of development that actively favours alternatives to driving.

4. Promoting active transportation through convenient, plentiful bike parking; pleasant environments and accessible public transport
- There are great benefits to active transportation and choosing where to live is the most critical factor. See: Choose where to live based on walkability and bikeability. However, housing design itself can greatly facilitate it.

- The biggest factor facilitating cycling trips is having plentiful, secure and readily accessible bike parking. The Commons has no underground car parking but has 70 bike parking spaces instead for just 24 apartments. Impressively, virtually all of it was occupied when I visited. The bike parking entrance/exit has an efficient roll-a-door straight out to the main bike path.

- The Commons bike parking has toilets and a shower right next to it in the basement providing efficient access to cafe, studio and other visitors as well as residents.

- The proximity of access to a network of safe cycling routes is also a major facilitator which was a conscious choice. As a confident rider, I find the Upfield bike path to be a bit too narrow and slow and would probably choose on-road routes for most trips. However, I've no doubt many residents of The Commons who aren't experienced cyclists find the Upfield bike path very convenient.

Moreland Energy Foundation: Sustainability at The Commons (pdf)

5. Consider all sustainability elements that contribute to affordability as this impacts where you can afford to live
- Sustainability, comfort, affordability and liveability all go together when it comes to housing design and choices. So in addition to factors directly affecting your likelihood of cycling and walking you should also consider aspects like energy efficiency, efficient/flexible use of space, waste, water, recycling and materials. The main reason is that housing designed with these sustainability principles in mind will be more affordable to buy (e.g. smaller sizes, efficient use of space) and much more affordable to live in (lower running costs). This enables you to live in areas that best suit active transportation. See: Seek affordable living not affordable housing.
Moreland Energy Foundation: Sustainability at The Commons (pdf)
> GreenMoves: Checklists and Tips

- A worthwhile article to read with decision points about efficient, affordable, sustainable and liveable housing is: Domain: Farewell to McMansions. These include smaller house sizes, fewer bathrooms, flexible usage of space, leveraging communal and public areas, productive gardens and conscious changes in behaviour (e.g. energy and water use).

6. Build, renovate and make housing design decisions with sustainability in mind
- If building a new home or renovating an existing one, various decisions can be made that facilitate sustainability and active transportation. A useful site for Melbourne residents is: GreenMoves. See: Build and Renovation ‘Must Have’ Checklist

7. How to find new or existing available housing designed for sustainability
- Options for finding available housing include:

(a) Identifying architects and developers that specialise in sustainable housing and keeping track of releases of their future housing projects. Urban Melbourne has an excellent project database that does exactly this.

For example, I did a search for "Breathe Architecture" (The Commons architects) and found a new project ("Rawhouse") in Fitzroy that will have a very similar sustainable design to The Commons. See also: Urban Melbourne: Two thumbs up! (Rawhouse review)

Urban Melbourne Project Database: Rawhouse (97-99 Rose Street, Fitzroy)

I also did a search for "Small Giants" (The Commons developer) and found another project that is in the registration and sales phase. See: Oxford & Peel website.

Urban Melbourne Project Database: 22 Peel St, Collingwood

(b) Property listing websites that specialise in sustainable, liveable housing inclusive of transport. I haven't seen many of these sites in Australia but will add them as I find them. GreenMoves is one of the better ones as Danielle King provides her own "EcoView" summary reports on the sustainability features of each property.
> GreenMoves: Green home for sale

(c) Using "eco-friendly" filters on real estate listing websites. Australia's biggest - - includes an "eco-friendly" filtering option. Unfortunately few current properties, especially rentals, meet many of these criteria:

Further Info:
RedShift: Apartment design as it should be

The Weekend Edition: Dreamers - Jeremy McLeod

In N.Y. Apartment Buildings, Bicycles Muscle In

The Urbanist: Why do we cycle to work but not to the shops?

Urban Melbourne: Two thumbs up! (Rawhouse review)

Domain: Farewell to McMansions

Inhabitat: Themes, Memes and Dreams in a Decade of Architecture

Treehugger: How to Build a Green, Car-free Community: Vauban

2014 House Awards: Sustainability

CityLab: How Outdated Parking Laws Price Families Out of the City

Huffington Post: House Tour: A Surprising Peek Inside The Home Of 'Mr. Money Mustache' Blogger (PHOTOS)