Episode Summary

  1. Passive housing can be more cost effective for multifamily housing developments?
  2. Planners, Developers, Architects should have 1 score card: are people spending time here?
  3. MVP density = 7,500 residents per square mile.

Massachusetts passive housing programs (4 min read)

When words fail to describe the places we love (6 min read)

Few American cities hit a "mvp" level of density (5 min read)

Episode Transcript

Passive, Words, MVP

This is patterns of development.

Hey everyone. I’m Kyle Gulau and on this show, patterns of development, we take less than 10 minutes each week to deconstruct what's going on in real estate, architecture, and urban planing.

We're looking for case studies, data, and peer reviewed work, to consider and and inform conversations in your community. My own personal goal is that I'll build some pattern recognition, and apply some of this experienced thinking in my own backyard.

Passive house incentive programs from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save have sparked the growth of high-performance multifamily buildings, with thousands more units in development.

That is the subtitle from an article by Sarah Shemkus.

Passive housing is a voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building - That's according to wikipedia. How do we make our buildings a little better? Strategies include passive solar design and landscaping, better insulation, advanced window technology, and airtightness.

The state of Massachusetts has seen about 257 affordable housing units built to the standard and apparently there are 6,000 additional units in various stages of development according to energynews.com.

Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts is quoted saying, "In Massachusetts, single-family homes built to the passive house standard have been popping up since the early 2000s but the approach is particularly suited for use in multifamily buildings: Because they contain many units within one super-tight building envelope, the ratio of exterior surface to living space can be very cost-effective, architects said. Until recently, however, developers were skittish about trying a new, higher-cost approach on these larger projects.

In 2018, The Passive House Design Challenge awarded eight affordable housing developments $4,000 per unit — for a total of $1.73 million — for new construction built to the passive house standard.

Then, in July 2019, Mass Save, the organization that administers the utilities’ legally mandated energy efficiency programs, launched its own passive house incentives. Available to both affordable and market-rate developments, the incentives offer payments for each stage of building: Up to $5,000 is available for feasibility studies and up to $20,000 for pre-construction energy modeling. Additional money is paid out upon certification.

I think the latter program is more intriguing. There's risks to passive housing to incur all these extra costs and then miss the mark at the end. So there's still a risk for developers. The feasibility studies and pre-construction modeling essentially gives developers the opportunity to invest in a game plan that has a higher likely hood of success.

Next up...some more placemaking. I absolutely loved this article, "Where words fail: Teach Architects and Urban Designers Like Violinists"

As a former musician, I say former because I haven't performed musically publicly in years, this really spoke to me. You don't really get to be a better musician by reading about it or be told about it. Those factors certainly help, ultimately you get better by experiencing and performing it.

The article by Tristan Clevland wonders what might happen if we train architects and planners to experience and practice place making for humans rather than using words.

I love this quote from the article, "Words get projects approved, and words get attention for architects in magazines and scholarly journals. Naturally, then, architects focus on what they can describe in words. Symbolism, in particular, gets attention. But symbolism alone cannot convince anyone to walk instead of drive. It cannot create a lively street where locals feel comfortable stopping and chatting. It cannot make people feel grateful to be alive, the way a truly wonderful street can."

Musican's have tuners and metronomes. What do planners and architects have? Jan Ghel suggests that many use misguided score cards and that their is a simple solution: measure where people choose to spend time and where they do not. Then build more stuff like where people spend time.

I love it. Creative thinking bringing music and learning into real estate. I couldn't resist.

Last up, a word on density. In the software world there's a term "minimally viable product." I think the term was coined, if it wasn't coined it was popularized by Eric Reis. What's the product with just enough features to attract early adopters and validate an idea.

Well what's the "MVP" for our 15 minute neighborhood? What's that level of density we need? Retail follows rooftops. Success is where the people are (see above). What's our minimally viable density? It's 7,500 residents per square mile according to Eric Kober -- an Eric theme with our last point this week --

The 7,500 residents per square mile threshold is only met in 12 of the United States' 50 largest cities. But in 1950 that was the average population density for U.S central cities. It's a tale as old as time. Post-war boom. Prosperity for most. Sprawl for all.

Which leads us to our patterns of the week:

  1. Passive housing can be more cost effective for multifamily housing developments?
  2. Planners, Developers, Architects should have 1 score card: are people spending time here?
  3. MVP density = 7,500 residents per square mile.

Talk to y'all soon