Mixing Green Space and Real Estate

By: Charlie Pigeon

When parks and real estate mix, there's often a hard working local resident behind the plans. Or a couple. In the case of New York City's High Line green space and commercial corridor, two unlikely promoters (a Chelsea artist and a Village painter) sat down with developers and city planners to come up with something truly innovative: an abandoned freight railway that quickly became the city's favorite brand, and a model for how to make the most of an old industrial space. Warehouse to condo conversions have long been a trendy ticket for developers and high-end buyers, but projects like the High Line show how the non-wealthy majority can participate in exciting urban renewal, leaving lots of room for investors to make a buck.

But it's unlikely big projects like these would get off the ground without the help of smart developers. Funding to preserve and transform the High Line railway had to come from somewhere, and nobody can get a construction project done faster and better than a developer who sees a profit down the road. In Orange County, California, the Irvine Corporation has been creating whole cities combining parks and real estate since the 1960s. The city of Irvine, headquarters to the company, is the most well-known example, where residential and commercial areas are woven around large ecological preserves and parks. In Irvine, powerline rights of way double as bike corridors, and large landscaping allowances on every street are irrigated by reclaimed water. Redevelopment and renewal are also popular in Irvine, as seen in the city's annexation of the decommissioned El Toro Marin Corps Air Station, which will become a 1,749 acre park surrounded by beautiful custom properties.

Developers and residents have also joined forces on a wide variety of open-air malls and markets across the nation. These projects encourage a more attractive development style than big boxes and parking lots, and often become the most popular place in the city to shop and do business. Summerlin Center, with its planned 1.2 million square foot shopping plaza, near Las Vegas, and Pearl Street Mall, in Boulder, Colorado are two of the most well-known outdoor mall developments in the nation.

Another positive effect of developers and local residents working together is the economic spin-off potential. Most developers buy local construction materials to save costs, and hire local workers. When a $100 million development project hits town, money is quickly spread throughout the community, and more people have jobs. It's that kind of prosperity that encourages people to preserve their natural surroundings through innovation and urban renewal.

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