Embedding Sustainability Solutions in a Master Planned Community

By Thomas D'Alesandro

Thomas D'Alesandro brings over 25 years of experience operating real estate companies - development and management organizations of up to 1,300 people - and has overseen the nation's largest mixed use master planned communities, including The Woodlands, TX, and Summerlin, NV. Mr. D'Alesandro's Blakefield, LLC has been advising clients globally on development strategy and execution since its founding in 2010.

The Research Triangle Region of North Carolina consistently sits at the top of “best place” lists – to live, grow a company or raise a family. Our reputation is an open secret, and the region is expected to add 40,000 new residents a year over the next twenty years. At the same time, the region’s renowned research park, RTP, is nearing full occupancy.

Chatham Park, a proposed master planned community totaling nearly 8,000 acres at the intersection of two major highways in Pittsboro, N.C., represents a future anchor to one of the nation’s fastest growing, economically vibrant and desirable areas.

Chatham Park is a new community designed to conserve significant open space, establish vibrant village and town centers, and attractively connect neighborhoods with businesses, entertainment, education and nature though an extensive trail system. It will be a place where the human and the natural connect in more rewarding ways — where you’ll be able to walk out your front door and experience the energy of Main Street or walk out your back door and feel the serenity of a quiet nature preserve. It builds on the traditions of other communities that successfully sought to create more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable places.

Precedents include two communities I have had the privilege to develop: Reston, Virginia, the nation’s first planned community, which has been recognized as much for its extensive natural areas as for its vibrant town center, and The Woodlands, north of Houston, Texas, which was “designed with nature” to allow a robust city to rise within a thriving forest.

Chatham Park will be the best expression of smart growth values, incorporating long-range, regional considerations of sustainability: Open space preservation. Targeted goals to reduce natural resource consumption. Connected technology.

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership’s new Cleantech Cluster has become Chatham Park’s partner in a collaborative effort to commercialize the exciting innovations of over 200 companies engaged in clean technologies in the Research Triangle Region. This strategic alliance will permit Chatham Park to raise the bar on sustainability solutions within the community.

Chatham Park will be built from the ground up with digitized infrastructure that will allow for the monitoring and data processing needed to achieve large reductions in the use of water, electricity and carbon-based fuels.

This means that not only will Chatham Park be preserving forest and land as its precedent communities have done, but it will extend beyond their achievements to make visible to residents and businesses their ability to conserve a more comprehensive and significant range of natural resources. That Chatham Park will be fed by a vision of not doing piece-meal development – a Planned Development District will overlay the entire community – means systems-thinking is achievable. This may be Chatham Park’s most distinctive urban planning innovation.

With 1,000 acres set aside for accommodating businesses, Chatham Park will contain the largest new center for bringing employees together in North Carolina. The community will attract a range of jobs, as the region continues to draw expanding industries in the areas of technology, life sciences and medicine. The residents of Chatham Park will be able to live where they work, creating a greater work-life balance. When fully built out over the next thirty years, Chatham Park will have over 20,000 homes clustered in five villages.

While I am proud that Reston and The Woodlands demonstrated the ecological advantages of taking a holistic approach to community planning, of being in one place where you could live, work and play (not to mention the health advantages of living surrounded by natural beauty), they could not have been designed to deploy new technologies that address energy, water, or waste management challenges with an integrated information and communication systems-based approach. In this way, Chatham Park will be different. We call it a “future enabled community.” What this means is that Chatham Park will be a resilient community.

Chatham Park will provide demonstration and deployment projects that are crucial to bringing clean technology into widespread market readiness through scaled performance and cost assessment over a build-out period of several decades.

Chatham Park is a privately funded development and the clean technologies deployed there will be pragmatic. We are “blinders-off” to the reality that emerging technologies face a marketplace that is risk averse, requires high rates of return, is marked by incumbent technologies, and often has policy and program hurdles to overcome.

However, this project represents a significant opportunity to demonstrate emerging and enabling technologies, helping overcome barriers to their widespread adoption. The Chatham Park – Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster partnership will institute a holistic, phased approach that will showcase the commercial viability of clean technology today and into the future. As a greenfield, Chatham Park represents a significant opportunity to model savings from efficiency technologies and allow capital resources to be diverted to alternative applications.

Events like Meeting of the Minds shows the interest there is in putting the new powers we possess to use in making our cities and towns more efficient – and more livable. Endeavors like Chatham Park provide an especially promising venue for executing the new technologies, measuring them, and demonstrating their benefits to a world much in need of their positive results.

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