February 13, 2020. By Ben Stapleton, USGBC-LA: Where does your building start and where does your building end? This question has been coming up more and more for me as we engage more deeply in issues around mobility (people moving between buildings), air quality (air, particulate matter, and more moving in and out of buildings), and materials (where do they come from and how are they made before they become part of your building and where do they go when they leave). Ultimately, this is all a matter of perception and focus and for far too long the landscape and plant material of our buildings has been more of an afterthought that was outside of our buildings when really it should have been the start of our building. This is part of why I am so excited about our upcoming Quarterly Thought Leadership Series on Maximizing the Impact of Urban Landscape.
The reality is that our urban landscape could be so much more than it is today. A true force for fighting climate change and restoring habitat as well as addressing issues around social equity, food access, health, and wellness. But it will only become that if we think about our buildings holistically and the landscape as the beginning of the process for how we engage design, think about user experience, occupant health, and community resilience. This is more than a conversation about sustainability, this is about creating long-term value in what we build and how we build by embracing a values-based, return on investment approach to open space. Leveraging the benefits of native plants to create wildlife habitat, mitigate fire risk, and reduce water use while creating interactive experience for people in the places they occupy that improves their health while promoting mental balance.
In this time where digital connectivity reigns supreme, it is our connectivity to nature and to each other that we need to nurture. Why build collaborative shared office workspaces if people can’t find the mental space to work productively with each other? Why build multi-family market rate or affordable housing if the residents ultimately won’t thrive with less access to fresh food, fresh air, and the inspiration to go outside, even if for a moment. Our landscape provides the opportunity to take the asset that surrounds our buildings and make it a high value-add part of the building itself, contributing to the components that bring higher rental rates, stabilize occupancy, and reduce operating costs over time. The challenge is that we need to work more collaboratively, more intelligently, and make better use of the tools we already have – from landscape design to material selection and microclimate data – to make our urban landscape a more integrated and natural part of our buildings than it has ever been. As it turns out, our buildings start and end with the people inside them, their experience, their health; and their connectedness to the places we create determines their willingness to pay, to keep coming back. Our landscape is perhaps one of our most underutilized opportunities to create a more sustainable and higher return built environment for all.