Green real estate: Follow T-Bone and forget cost per square foot
As April rolls to an end, I find myself in awe, wonder, and confusion over the growing debates, product expos, and presentations that seek to define green living in the 21st century. While PowerPoints and “isms” flood our collective consciousness, there is a need for a simpler, practical exploration of the big picture.
By coincidence, April has brought about the groundbreaking of the Mirabeau B at Hyde Park, a sustainable condominium project that I have been developing over the past two years at the corner of Waugh Drive and Hyde Park Blvd. in Montrose. While the initial goals for the project remain, the process and time have helped me to synthesize a perspective of what sustainability is really about: Building value — value as it relates to community, design, beauty, materials, methods, and quality of life.
Unfortunately, we live in an age that measures in units of cost rather than value — a place where the low-cost provider is usually king. From the kinds of food we eat to the way we power our homes, we are faced with cost-to-value decisions every day, each one of us with our own distinct process and set of questions.
In real estate, the question has always been, “What’s the cost per square foot?”
The bigger a project’s scale and the cheaper the materials, the better the cost per square foot looks to developers, builders, and buyers alike. But there are other considerations.The resulting project might interfere with a community, be in need of constant repair, and ultimately have a short lifespan. Until we are ready to make a philosophical shift in how we evaluate our choices, we will continue to see short-sided development.
Considering the upfront and lifecycle costs, the question should become, “What’s the value per square foot?”
At the Mirabeau B, our team has tried to make decisions based on long-term value. While the project will carry a LEED certification and incorporate solar-powered common areas, a planted green roof, and a rainwater retention system, the emphasis on sustainability has always had more to do with community, design, and quality. These are factors that have a positive effect on the project’s value but often carry an increased per unit cost due to the building’s intimate scale, choice of materials, and high quality of work.
It is our mission to create a project that adds value to the neighborhood and is worth maintaining and preserving — something the community embraces rather than fights.
The rebels will lead us
Up until the second half of the 20th century, this sense of sustainability had a lot to do with practicality and necessity. People produced and used goods within their own community and tended to operate within a small geographic radius. As the country shifted towards greater centralization, decisions became less personal and more cost driven. As a result, our society by and large chooses to outsource rather than locally produce.
While we may see short-term savings in buying cheap imported goods, we do so at the risk of harming our long-term sustainability. To reverse this thinking, we must take pride in what we do and invest in our quality of life.
Although I approach this from the realm of sustainable real estate development, the dilemma is universal. Some time ago, I watched music producer T-Bone Burnett talk on the Charlie Rose Show about his motivation to make music that is as good as it can be — music with longevity. In another industry that tends to reward short-term financial successes, it’s refreshing to see someone make a meaningful career out of fostering artful albums that stand the test of time.
In my mind, this is an attitude that demonstrates a commitment to sustainability on a very micro level. For T-Bone, it’s building value in the music he produces, which in turn provides value for the musicians on hand and later the audience that follows. The same can be said for cooking a meal, teaching a class, or developing a building.
While the green debates and discussions will undoubtedly continue over Aprils to come, my advice is to focus on the big picture. We all share the desire to improve our standard of living. It is the way in which we choose to do so and the value we build into the process that defines our sense of sustainability.
Joey Romano is director of development at Harvest Moon Development Company.