With global population topping 7 billion, more people than ever before are living, working, and playing in cities. While public policy experts have only recently begun to come to grips with the implications of this increasingly urban populace, developers, urban planners, and architects have been implementing sophisticated strategies that discourage sprawl and encourage the creation of dense, livable environments for some time now.
The benefits of urban infill and other redevelopment strategies, in fact, have become increasingly apparent, particularly with limited funding for new development and large numbers of abandoned and underutilized properties in cities nationwide. Unfortunately, there has been a general lack of cohesion in how these ideas have been applied.
To counteract this, a strategy is needed that combines the compact communities and energized streetscapes of New Urbanism, the sensible land use and urban planning of Smart Growth, and the environmentally friendly priorities of green design. To that end, development professionals are applying strategic design and site planning, and embracing the reuse of existing infrastructure and site-specific topography to make developments not just greener, but better. The result is an approach that transforms infill into greenfill.
A greenfill approach recognizes that green and infill priorities are not mutually exclusive with great places, and that combining thoughtful planning with inspired design and development can recapture and add value. At a project level, greenfill leverages design concepts in environmentally friendly ways to create memorable built environments with a powerful sense of place. At a community level, greenfill creates vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods. At its core, greenfill marries livability with sustainability. It also makes good economic sense, relying less on high-tech solutions and more on sensible strategies of connection, inclusion, and reuse.
Greenfill not only develops undeveloped or underdeveloped properties. It weaves them back into the larger community fabric. Its effectiveness is based on the simple logic that rehabilitating existing buildings is almost always “greener” than building new ones. Relying on existing civic infrastructure, greenfill is able to use utility networks, roads, and transportation to great advantage. Combined with well-established community and social frameworks, these existing resources can offer what amounts to a ready-made template for development.
Effective greenfill development depends on the relationship of complex economic, political and regulatory forces. Top-down coordination, procedural streamlining, and regulatory reform are absolute necessities. For municipalities, that means developing both a regional plan and a more detailed neighborhood analysis. Big-picture planning helps with coordination and accountability. An inventory mechanism for monitoring vacant and abandoned properties can be a real asset.