February 2008 Archives


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One of the most significant green trends makes for lighter impact on the planet while giving people what they find most valuable: more time to spend with their families and in their communities. New "mixed-use" communities such as the award-winning Dos Lagos development in Corona, California, 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, locate homes close to amenities including shopping, entertainment, recreation and work, reducing travel time and fuel use. Through its preservation of open space and careful restoration of natural resources, Dos Lagos goes one step further, giving residents and visitors access to nature they can easily get out and enjoy.

To date, most mixed-use neighborhoods have been located in dense urban areas with easy access to transportation: think Manhattan, Chicago and San Francisco. But now, thanks to many forces including global warming and booming demand for urban-style living, more sustainable planning is beginning to come to suburban Sun Belt communities.

Dos Lagos, based in the Inland Empire of Southern California east of Los Angeles, the fastest-growing region in California, presents a vital example of a "live, work, play" approach for real estate developers, businesses and residents. State officials charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions through more sustainable land use and planning by California's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, known as AB 32, are carefully following the progress of Dos Lagos.

There is an emerging need to have not only buildings be greener, but for entire developments or neighborhoods planned so that they reduce energy and resource use. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the entity behind the incredibly popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program, is now working with Dos Lagos and 237 other pilot projects in 39 states and six countries as part of the highly anticipated LEED Neighborhood Development program, or LEED-ND. Other LEED-ND managing organizations include the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Dos Lagos and its combined residential, retail and commercial development is a prime example of cutting energy and resource consumption through smart planning and land use," said Rick Fedrizzi, Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council. "We're proud to have Dos Lagos as a pilot participant in the LEED Neighborhood Development program." 

Rapid growth in affordable real estate markets near urban employment centers has been typically defined by completely separate strip malls, sprawling single-family housing subdivisions and office campuses. These car-centered configurations put a strain on local traffic, nerves and the environment. Corona, a city of 153,000 in 2006 has grown over 70 percent since 1990. Located in a rapidly developing corridor along US Interstate 15, it is approximately 11 miles from the city of Riverside. The Riverside-San Bernardino metro was ranked in 2002 by the non-profit organization Smart Growth America as the most sprawled region out of the 100 largest metro areas in the United States, in its peer-reviewed study "Measuring Sprawl and its Impact."

The Smart Growth America study compared and ranked overall metro area sprawl levels by measuring four criteria within each metro: street connectedness, the presence of an urban center, amount of mixed-use development and density. Dos Lagos and a handful of other suburban developments nationally including Prairie Crossing in the Chicago suburb of Grayslake and Aventiene in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Gaithersburg, Maryland, are attempting to counter unchecked sprawl. These master-planned developments reduce at least two of the four sprawl factors measured in the study by creating mixed land uses--including residential, retail, office and entertainment--with more density than is typically found in suburbia.


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Dos Lagos' mixed-use redevelopment strategy appears has been very successful. In late 2007 the master developer of Dos Lagos, Ali Sahabi, President of SE Corporation (a Common Current client), was awarded California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's only Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in the Sustainable Communities category.
 
Dos Lagos also is the only real estate development endorsed by the Riverside Land Conservancy, a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect nature and natural resources.  

In terms of economic and market measures, Dos Lagos, has also been a sensation. Located on 543 acres of what was abandoned industrial land purchased by SE Corporation for $5 million in 1996, the combined valuation of Dos Lagos including its retail and office center is today approaching $1 billion. Retail occupancy for Phase I of Dos Lagos' Promenade Shops is 96 percent and increasing. Out of  485 available units  76 percent sold. An additional  565 apartment and condominium units are in development or in the planning stages for a total of 1050 living units in the community.

Higher-density suburban communities such as Dos Lagos are designed to get people to run into their neighbors. Whether it's through shopping, jogging or biking along paths and sidewalks for recreation, walking to nearby offices, or through community events and celebrations, mixed-use living reduces the need to drive while replicating the spontaneous pedestrian interactions taken for granted as part of city living. Access to outdoor recreational opportunities at Dos Lagos includes a walkable 18-hole public championship golf course, mile-long trails along the restored Temescal Creek, generous open space access and wildlife viewing. 

"We think of the community as the focus of all we do," said Sahabi. "Our community allows people to spend more time with friends and families, have a rewarding career, stay fit and healthy, while being able to conveniently buy groceries, shop, go to restaurants or entertainment, and enjoy nature. Dos Lagos provides a balanced lifestyle that is harmonious with the community, and that includes the natural environment.".

The Promenade Shops include 60+ high-end retailers, everything from a Trader Joe's supermarket to Coach and Anthropologie stores, along with a 15-screen multiplex and several upscale restaurants. A LEED-registered six-story green office complex of 160,000 square feet is nearing completion.

Dos Lagos' redevelopment approach is more common to core urban areas. Rather than developing on so-called "greenfield" land that could be used for open space or agriculture--grapefruit and lemons are still commercially grown in this semi-desert environment--the community is located on the restored grounds of an abandoned silica mining operation. 

SE Corporation has been working closely during the past decade with habitat, wildlife and open space conservation agencies and groups, including the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, the California Department of Fish and Game and the Riverside Land Conservancy. After clearing derelict buildings as well as heavy machinery and autos dumped on the site, the first challenge was restoring a natural aquifer that recharges the namesake "two lakes." and reengineering approximately 10 million cubic yards of on-site soils primarily remnant mining tailing, bringing the site nearer to its pre-mined elevations.

Today the two four-acre lakes, joined by a 120-foot bamboo pedestrian bridge located within the 8.5 acre garden-lake district, serve as the heart of Dos Lagos, offering a spectacular backdrop for performances with a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater, as well as offering naturally cool refuge for waterfowl and visitors alike during hot weather. The golf course and lakes use non-potable water primarily from the restored aquifer, instead of being dependent upon imported water from faraway sources.

Native and drought-tolerant plants and wildflowers, as well as shade trees are found throughout Dos Lagos. Lushly planted "bioswales" capture and naturally filter stormwater run-off from nearby paved surfaces, reducing water pollution and irrigation needs. During the land's redevelopment a dozen young and six massive 170-year old coastal live oak trees were meticulously preserved and strategically replanted along major boulevards.  

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, California hosts the most threatened species of any state in the nation; Dos Lagos contributes a key corridor connecting the coastal sage scrub, upland and coastal habitat zones for diverse wildlife. Despite heavy development in areas, Southern California still offers habitat is for 146 rare animal and plant species found nowhere else. Dos Lagos preserved and restored 165 acres of protected open space adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest, including Temescal Creek's rich riparian habitat.

Economically, Sahabi's one overriding goal for the commercial and retail elements of the mixed-use development was to address the historic deficit of jobs available in the region. Demographics for Riverside and San Bernardino counties from 2006 show that there was just over one job in the region for every four inhabitants. In the same year, nearby Los Angeles and Orange counties, by contrast, had about one job for every two inhabitants--indicating many Inland Empire residents have been commuting long hours by car for work in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

But that portrait is changing quickly. Because of this job-residential imbalance, Riverside and San Bernardino county job growth from 2000 to 2005 outpaced the rest of the state by a rate of more than seven times as much, according to the US Census Bureau (California's job growth rate was 3.9 percent and Riverside County's rate was 28.7 percent during the same period). Dos Lagos projects it will create 4,500 retail and corporate office jobs, which will contribute to improving the job-housing ratio while offering an alternative to the teeth-gnashing commutes between the Inland Empire and coastal counties.  


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The next thirty years will present more changes to the global, political and social economies than have occurred since the era of the Explorers. Why? Here are the big three:

  1. Peaking Resources:
    • oil
    • natural gas
    • coal
    • minerals
    • topsoil
    • fish
    • fresh water

We are testing the limits of supply, extraction, and consumption. In some of the above, there might be additional resources available but not without untold energy and financial expenditures as well as cultural/environmental destruction. Richard Heinberg outlines this state of planetary affairs in his new book, Peak Everything

  1. Global climate change adaptation.  Now that climate change is a given, watch the economics of climate change adaptation come into play not only in energy markets, but in myriad unexpected ways. Global seaport consultant Scott Borgerson in the upcoming March/ April 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs describes how the rapidly melting arctic ice creates open waters, which absorbs even more sun than ice, known as the "ice albedo feedback loop." The result? Consistently navigable waters for the first time in human history. Expect new shipping arctic megaports, with a mad scramble for newly available oil and minerals. 
  1. $100 a barrel oil. Our planet's main source of mobile energy is at its historic price high. Any movement beyond current pricing is bound to multiply impacts in food markets, supply chains and public mobility. Whatever the causes, no conventional expert has forecast oil price dynamics accurately since 2005, when crude's price began its stratospheric ascent. From now on, any major or perceived major disruption in supply will continue to cause even more dramatic price spikes, impacting global trade, government and civic life.

So What's the Game Plan for the U.S.?

Mind the New Superpowers--To stay in the game with the new line up of superpowers  (thanks to Parag Khanna), the United States must continue to lead with big ideas, innovation, implementation and hard work. The European Union is constantly adding new members and is upping its political power with the strength of the Euro and its development of renewable energy and smart planning. China is expanding its reach for energy and political influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond, while bolstering its technology education, training and implementation.

The Next New Deal--Public-Private Partnerships: The early mandates being set by government to combat climate change are in motion, including California's AB 32.  In response to baking AB 32 into economic development, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a Performance-Based Infrastructure plan that promises to set the stage for a new way of both governing and doing business, at least in this country.

Executive Leadership That Gets It. All three major U.S. presidential candidates and most heavy-hitting world leaders are strong backers of global climate change related legislation and treaties, and all three running in the US horserace for CEO have strong alternative energy platforms.

  • John McCain was the first major Republican advocating climate change measures nationally (even before Arnold), back in 2003.
  • Barack Obama has written of taking on the "tyranny of oil" and has announced a program to pour $150 billion into renewables and green collar jobs.
  • Hillary Clinton has plans for a $50 billion Strategic Energy Initiative

De-linking Carbon Production and Economic Growth: The Scandanavian Model. Scandinavia has some of the world's highest quality of life, and is rapidly making the switch to become fossil-fuel free. Economic growth is strong in Norway, Sweden and Denmark: Sweden has reduced greenhouse emissions about 40 percent since the 1970s, with GDP growth up 105 percent. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden and Norway are about one-third of those in the United States.

The best systemic solutions will require rapid innovation amongst business and government leaders, as well as public awareness and behavioral change. For this to happen, we'll need data, communications and shared knowledge fueling media, entertainment and policy.

Cisco, Microsoft and others are beginning to put the necessary relationships in place to meld information technology, knowledge and sustainability innovation around everything from carbon accounting to connected transportation and building energy systems. The European Union already has an association for sustainable development communication and information, AICDD. Our government's plan for this new paradigm, along with clean tech and  land use/ development incentives, will move us far beyond the advances being made locally in such cities as Portland, San Francisco, Austin and Chicago.

The bottom line: the green revolution is about greenbacks now more than ever. Whether it's the rapidly growing market in organic and local food, green building and renewable energy technologies, green information technology, or larger scale planning and development efforts such as the new LEED-Neighborhood Development program, the nation needs to scale up capacities to create a less carbon-intensive economy that is second to none.  

 

Photo courtesy Flickr user lexrex

 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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