NREI Readers Write

Urban Development: The Hot Commodity

Real estate trends spring up all over the American map. Rural communities are currently the main focus of wind energy projects and solar energy farms. Half a century ago, urban areas saw high-rise apartment buildings and government-funded projects suddenly become the norm.

Now, urban real estate trends have taken a different focus. This new movement jointly emphasizes economy and environment, something relatively new in the real estate market.

Environmental Protection

Any business seeking urban development must incorporate certain environmental requirements into their designs before laying the foundation. Because of the high cost, building “green” forces the industry to come up with better ideas and environmentally-friendly products that cost the same as their non-green counterparts.

Nearly all construction today is built with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in mind. This has been a focus in recent years, and it will continue to have influence in the future. As a result of the LEED need to build more efficiently, some very impressive buildings have been constructed. This includes the USGBC Headquarters, which achieved the highest possible LEED rating (platinum) and is not only visually appealing, but also includes green features throughout.

For instance, the developer utilized a 500-year-old salvaged timber initiative, energy-efficient lighting, and 40% decreased water and energy usage (compared to a non-green office). Builders all over the country are improving the ways they operate. The emphasis on LEED certifications as a common benchmark helps not only further innovation, but it has the potential to lower costs with an increase in research and development.

In with the New, Not Quite Out with the Old

One big trend in real estate is the acquisition of old, sometimes foreclosed, buildings for a fraction of their market value. Builders then renovate and resell, or flip, the buildings to a new consumer for a hefty profit. However, it has become equally popular to restore old businesses to a modern look, all while preserving a nostalgic characteristic.

In some cases, the building may even be functionally obsolete. For example, the JBG Companies worked with the Cooper Cary design firm’s building in Arlington, Virginia. The developer constructed a new building in the place of an old car dealership. The old building had significant historical relevance to the area; in order to preserve the identity of the old building, the “blue geometrical design overhang” was left in place. This was a key visual that the dealership had been well-known for.

We always need to be moving forward, improving our construction and incorporating different buildings into cityscapes. But remembering the past and having the flexibility to incorporate the old with the new can pay big dividends for a building’s future.


Building trends are not specific to local communities. National trends develop commonalities that consistently influence the market as a whole. As commercial real estate investor Dave Lindahl would say, builders need to find “emerging markets.” These areas are experiencing change for the better and are known to have stable job markets and infrastructure. A builder should buy into the “path of progress” as much as citizens and local politicians do. Development will pick up at a feverish pace, so this is where builders need to focus their time and energy in investing.

Times are changing. A developer’s glory no longer needs to be an environmental burden. Benchmark green initiatives, like LEED certifications, ensure environmental awareness. History is important to any urban neighborhood, and to think otherwise is dangerous. Preservation, if possible, can be critical to future building endeavors. By investing time and energy in emerging markets, developers can change the outlook of the economy. Builders can provide jobs for the unemployed, preserve a city’s identity, and turn the path of progress into a beautiful reality.

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