Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA
Carl Bower Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA

From Boston to Los Angeles, residential construction and renovation are bringing a welcome shot of energy to inner cities. But, that can come at a price.

Take the restoration of older brownstones and row houses, often part of larger gentrification movements in cities all across the U.S., and which often outprices low-income families who have to move to suburban areas. Those who can least afford long commutes to work must make them back into the city center or at some distant point from their new homes, thereby taxing their already tight household budgets.

Elected officials and community leaders in many cities have applied political leverage to this situation, which usually comes in two forms: encouraging affordable housing developments within the city limits or mandating a certain percentage of “affordable” set-asides in new, multifamily construction otherwise designed for young professionals.

For their part, architects have shown great leadership in driving these projects to encourage community regeneration and to set a higher bar for sustainable design. In doing these two things, they remind us that sustainability is not just about energy usage and environmental certifications. It’s also about social cohesion and the health of our communities.

Designed by Santa Monica, Calif.–based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, the 28th Street Apartments in South Los Angeles (a 2014 AIA Housing Award winner) is a former YMCA repurposed to meet the needs of underserved citizens. New York City’s Via Verde-The Greenway project in the Bronx, designed by Grimshaw, in partnership with Phipps Houses and Jonathan Rose Companies, offers a new approach to green and healthy living that serves a range of incomes.

In Houston, Glassman Shoemake Maldonado Architects’ award–winning Brays Crossing transformed a 1960s–era apartment bloc into single room occupancy complex. A joint venture between developer New Hope Housing and the City of Houston, the new complex provides affordable permanent housing for limited–income individuals at risk of homelessness. With a deep understanding of how design can be an agent of a healthy community, and the success of the public–private partnership that funded it, the architects successfully designed an affordable nurturing asset for an older neighborhood.

Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA
2015 AIA President

Learn more about leadership in residential design at www.aia.org/hkc.