Avoiding Anti-Apartment “Environmentalism”

When those of us who consider ourselves environmentalists work to stop the development of an apartment building in an urban or suburban area, we are not being proper environmentalists; we are being NIMBYs.

Apartments are oftentimes a lot more eco-friendly than single-family homes. They share walls and other resources, and allow more people to live in a more compact area, leaving more space for trees and wildlife. And in many cases, apartment or condo residents don’t need to buy or store nearly as much “stuff” as people who live in stand-alone houses with their own yards.

Some ideas of what environmentalists could do instead of stopping an apartment building:

• Push the developer/builder to include rainwater gutters and cisterns, and use the rainwater on site for irrigation and maybe a natural swimming-pool.

• Push them to minimize manicured ornamental “landscaping” (and pledge to use no ‘cides or ferts on the landscape).

• Ask them to put in fruit trees and veggies instead of ornamental manicured landscaping.

• Ask them to leave as much of the landscape uncleared as possible. (I seem to be noticing more developers lately trying to maximize natural, uncleared area and even putting in nature trails.)

• Make sure the building is designed with ample roof overhangs, light-colored roofs, and other energy-smart passive features.

• Ask them to consider running a shuttle bus for residents, if the proposed complex is located in a suburban area with little or no public transport. I recently heard of one developer doing this as a way to cut down on traffic generated by their new large residential complex.

Any of the above could just as well be implemented for a nonresidential development too: a factory, a warehouse complex, big shopping center, or other industrial/commercial development.

What else can you think of? Let’s be real environmentalists, not NIMBYs.

Update: Saw a local headline, from a city not far from me, to the effect that parking issues and building style had caused a vote on a downtown apartment project to be postponed. This kind of thing irks me to no end.

One — I so hate to see a downtown apartment project get stalled for parking issues. This is an opportunity to reduce outdated parking requirements. The kind of residents who are drawn to live in such a complex will often be people who are choosing to live without a car.

Two — Re architecture style: There will always be people who love a building and people who hate it. Lush vegetation can help mitigate the visually jarring impact. Trees and native plants tend to mitigate/soften the visual impact of any building, making it look better and of course providing shade, stormwater absorption and other benefits.