Planning for Carbon Neutral Cities

Date Posted: 04.21.2016

Nationwide, urban centers are confronting a variety of challenges related to rapid population increases in a time of climate change.  In Texas, the City of Austin has envisioned a dynamic, transit-oriented and diverse neighborhood near its downtown, at the nexus of Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek, the site of an antiquated water treatment plant. Working with developers and planners, the city is seeking long-term solutions that balance social, economic and environmental concerns.

The city has commissioned master planning for 2.6 million square feet of water and carbon neutral development that will include office, retail, a twin tower condominium, a boutique hotel, a senior living tower, a condominium / hotel tower, parking and public green-spaces. Sited in the footprint of the Green Water Treatment Plant, Project Green will reflect the site’s relationship to the water, and its utilitarian history of delivering a cleaner, higher quality environment.

The project will achieve carbon neutral operations through a combination of energy efficiency, utilization of Austin’s district cooling system, and use of onsite and offsite renewable power. As a model for cities faced with increasing air- and water-quality standards and rapid urban growth – with associated needs for power and water treatment – Project Green will incorporate decentralized and integrated utilities strategies, including:

  • Construction of “green” district streets for open space, wildlife corridors, and bioswales. Bioswales will collect 100 percent of the stormwater runoff, boosting the supply of groundwater available for vegetation.
  • Integrated sewage treatment facilities that will treat wastewater and redistribute it through two supply lines per building: one for gray water and another for potable water.
  • Developers will seek LEED® Gold certification by using low-maintenance materials with low embodied energy and high recycled content, solar and thermal collectors, double skin membranes, solar screens, and vegetated roofs.
  • Power will be supplemented using photovoltaic technology integrated into building façades and cladding, as well as off-site solar farms.
  • Energy from wind will be captured using wind turbines on buildings, and by purchasing wind-generated power from local electrical utilities.
  • Buildings will be oriented to optimize solar access and natural ventilation.

The proposed design will maintain Austin’s unique and authentic characteristics while offering significant attention to public open space, mobility and connectivity enhancement, affordable housing, and low-impact design. Bike trails, a new bridge at Second Street, a new mid-block pedestrian bridge and a treetop-level retail walk connect people to Shoal Creek, one of a series of urban creeks. Alleys modeled after the historic Waller plan for Austin will weave together shady courtyards and flexible outdoor spaces that create new venues for the city’s thriving music scene. The master plan will also augment urban food production and a popular community agriculture program.

Promoting an urban neighborhood that is mixed socially and economically, the project promises to make 25 percent of residential rental units affordable to low-income families. Developers will also contribute $2.5 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and will support funding for public art and music programs, including an art display around the Austin Energy substation and an endowment to create an ongoing lunchtime music series.

The redevelopment project is expected to have a dramatic positive economic impact in Austin, providing significant downtown employment opportunities and adding as much as $700 million to the city’s tax base after the build-out is completed. By thinking and designing strategically and cooperatively, designers will further the development of positive, people-centric, livable and sustainable urban environments.