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Exploring Benefits of Walkable Neighborhoods

 Siding job in the Bryan / College Station suburb, by Stearns Design Build. Being able to walk around your community really promotes a sense of community.

Siding job in the Bryan / College Station suburb, by Stearns Design Build. Being able to walk around your community really promotes a sense of community.

The past few blogs have mention in passing “walkable neighborhoods”— What exactly is a walkable neighborhood and what are its benefits?

To truly be walkable, a neighborhood has to contain certain characteristics. It first needs to have a center such as a main street, public plaza, or other public area. This ties the community together and ends up being where most businesses and shops are located, and where community events occur.

A walkable neighborhood needs to be pedestrian friendly with wide sidewalks, possible seating areas (like benches), greenery that acts as a buffer between the street, and buildings with parking behind them. This means pedestrians have to worry less about watching out for cars and can walk comfortably.

Walkable neighborhoods should be designed for a variety of transportation such as bicycles, public buses, or trains, in addition to pedestrians and automobiles. This can be accomplished more successfully and easily through street planning that is intuitive and not confusing (like a block/grid system). But with care, any type of road structure can incorporate alternate transportation. Schools and workplaces should ideally be close enough to walk to daily. This can be accomplished by bringing in mixed use buildings that have businesses below and living above. Mixed use buildings don’t have to be huge skyscrapers, but can be smaller buildings that fit well with the scale of a neighborhood. Mixed use buildings allow for affordable housing and convenience which draw more people into a community. This is important as it allows for the success of buildings and public areas.

Of course, every walkable community needs to have plenty of parks. Green spaces are good for health, add beauty to the community, and encourage play & exercise!

Can your neighborhood become a walkable community?

All of these characteristics create a community –whether it’s a downtown area or small neighborhood – that is healthy, enjoyable, memorable, and energetic. As you think about the neighborhood you live in, turning it into a walkable community might seem like an overwhelming task. But, each characteristic can be taken into consideration and incorporated one at a time or with neighborhood specific adaptations. As this happens, your neighborhood will develop into a real community you can enjoy  being an active part of now and in the future.

Tailoring Homes and Communities (Part 2)

 Custom home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build. Creating a sense of community is something we strive for everyday. 

Custom home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build. Creating a sense of community is something we strive for everyday. 

So far this week we’ve discussed the need to tailor our rooms, our overall homes, and our communities. Here are some suggestions about ways to tailor, and the benefits of tailoring. Tailoring Homes

Remember from Monday’s blog—tailoring includes focusing on creating smaller more intimate spaces and cutting down on rooms that are often unused in your home. You could repurpose these unused rooms to make them into functional, enjoyable spaces. Don’t be afraid of creating multipurpose spaces that may seem unconventional. This is all part of making your home unique, and making it perfectly fit your needs. Make use of extraneous spaces: put bookshelves in hallways, make under-stair areas accessible for storage, and utilize your entry way as a small office or library, even a mudroom of sorts. If flow is preventing your home from being functional, adjust the placement of doorways or even remove walls if needed. With a little creativity and vision, you can really make every nook of your home practical.

Go vertical – expanding upwards instead of outwards doesn’t change the foot print of your home and keeps the surrounding area free for outdoor gardens.  It may be possible for your attic space to be conditioned and used as additional living space. This has an added benefit of preventing your attic from becoming a heat trap and increasing cooling loads on spaces below in the summer.

Tailoring Communities

Communities can be entire city areas, centralized downtowns, and suburban or rural neighborhoods. All can benefit from tailoring and all should reflect your needs as a homeowner/renter, worker, and shopper. In urban city areas, infill is an important part of tailoring – this may be through the reuse of vacant buildings or by building new buildings in adjacent vacant lots. Having mixed use areas is a way to truly fully occupy buildings, with shops or business offices below and housing above. This also begins to create walkable communities, a big part of sustainable city planning. Infill can also be green infill – small public or even private gardens greatly increase the beauty and health of urban areas. Techniques for tailoring are visible in the Downtown Bryan area and in many other small & large city centers in Texas. City centers are a great community resource and truly increase our quality of life

Creating neighborhood centers can also help to tailor communities to our needs. These could contain a public park, business/shopping centers, or other public areas. This could be something you work towards as a neighborhood, discussing your specific needs or wants and then deciding how to meet those through a public center or plaza. This idea makes neighborhood communities more diverse and adaptable, and also increases convenience and functionality.  Imagine if the nearest doctor or grocery store was a 5 minute walk away instead of a 20 minute drive!

Remember our recent blog about three why’s behind green building — Heath, Functionality, & Longevity. As tailoring is a sustainable idea, these reasons apply to it as well! So start brainstorming and thinking about ways to tailor your home into a happier, more comfortable, and lovable place.

Fellow Green Builder

I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Spadone today. Paul has a green building company very much like Stearns Design Build but the poor guy is stuck in southern California. He recently completed an award-winning LEED Project. I look forward to helping Paul develop the Green Building committee of the new National Association of Custom Home Builders like us, they do both custom homes and remodeling. Check them out at www.streamlinegreenhomes.com. It is always a pleasure catching up with a fellow green builder.