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Good urban form is more resilient

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/19/12 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

· The latest renaissance in Lakewood's downtown shows that investment in cities with good urban form will prove to be better placed than in development based on large lot zoning, gobbling up green space, propped up by highway expansion. Lakewood's housing density offers the city's commercial districts a stable base from which it can grow when investment creeps back in. Time will tell, but Lakewood and the region's booming condo market offer a contrasting narrative to the low density suburban development that has less track record recovering from Recession. Traditional downtowns like Lakewood's – with buildings that place big storefronts close to the street and foot traffic generated from the highest concentration of housing on ¼ acre lots between New York and Chicago– have the bones to withstand boom and bust and boom. Again, it's the inherent nature of Lakewood's built form that makes it resilient in the face of economic shocks and downturns in the market – businesses may come and go but the bones of districts like downtown Lakewood make possible a blush of recovery from a relatively small group of new investors.

· Are condos in low density developments like Pepper Pike's Sterling Lakes really more sustainable? If we consider that 27% of our carbon footprint in Northeast Ohio comes from the energy we consume heating, cooling, lighting and powering our homes, the answer is…it depends. Did the developer have energy efficiency in mind when building the condo? Can condos be held up as more sustainable if they don't aim for green building status like EnergyStar and LEED? Are small living spaces in multi-family structures inherently more sustainable? Again, it depends. The excitement over an emerging trend of a booming condo market in Northeast Ohio must be tempered by a clear minded examination of the building standards being employed in their construction. Suburban communities from Pepper Pike to Westlake can help by setting some standards for land-use and energy performance in their zoning and through other incentives to developers. For example, the city of Cleveland is tying its tax abatements to LEED for Homes and other green rating systems.

· Cleveland developers looking for inspiration on how to build a deep green condo, check out Natural Home and Garden's feature this month on New York City's first LEED-Platinum high-rise condominium.

· Transportation is just as important as building efficiency in our effort to reduce carbon emissions. Distance and practical alternatives to driving make communities without healthy alternatives to the car a high energy endeavor. And less attractive to the next generation. A new study found that young Americans are driving far less than even 10 years ago. Factors like steeper fuel prices, more readily available public transportation and a shift in priorities will likely continue the trend after the Recession.

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