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AIA Indiana Hosts Annual City County Council Reception Virtually

by: Jack Quigley
Stewart Whitcomb
Stewart Whitcomb
AIA Indiana Executive Director Jason Shelley, AIA moderated the association’s annual City-County Council Reception at the end of 2020. Members of the City County Council started the webinar by introducing themselves to viewers and providing brief descriptions of some of their districts’ most pressing issues.

City Council members featured in December’s webinar were Vop Osili, City-County Council President; Kristin Jones, Representative for District 16; Dan Boots, District 3 Representative; Ali Brown, District 5 Representative; and Jason Larrison, District 12 Representative.

Osili said the City’s primary focus right now is on reengaging businesses downtown and improving the social and built environments of the area.

Boots, whose father was one of the founding members of CSI’s Indianapolis Chapter in 1967, described to AIA members his interest in design’s ability to function as a tool for crime prevention in his district on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

“That is something I hope we can incorporate into our thinking process as we look at how do we rebuild the Castleton area and how do we fight crime through the design,” Boots said. “And not always just think we need to have more police to fight crime. You can create smart, intelligent, and strategic design to address that as well.”

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Ali Brown, former Executive Director of the Indiana Construction Roundtable and current Executive Director at Rebuilding Together Indianapolis, told AIA members her recent focus has been on the Indianapolis Autism Project – an initiative that aims to make Indianapolis the safest place for a person on the autism spectrum to live, work, and visit.

“A lot of what I’ve learned about architecture and interior design I’ve gotten to apply to this project because spaces are intentionally designed to be sensory friendly,” Brown said. “I know that great design can change a life, change the way you feel in a space, and change the way a space treats you, so that is kind of my focus now.”

COTE and the Goal of Resiliency
Later in the virtual reception, Guidon Design’s Stewart Whitcomb, AIA gave a presentation about AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) and outlined a sustainability and resiliency action plan for the City of Indianapolis.

COTE describes itself as a committee that “works to advance, disseminate, and advocate design practices that integrate built and natural systems and enhance both the design quality and environmental performance of the built environment”.

Whitcomb identified two overarching goals for the City in their fight to create a healthier and more sustainable built environment:

The first is to increase community resilience by prioritizing equity in policy, planning and project implementation. Whitcomb defined resilience in this context to mean the ability of a community to return to normal operations and activities after the occurrence of a destabilizing event. He explained that during the pandemic, the resiliency of the restaurant industry hinged on restaurants’ ability to offer takeout options and outdoor seating. Some establishments were unable to adapt because their surrounding built environment did not provide enough space to expand seating or offer pickup, which presents a resiliency problem that Whitcomb hopes will be solved with the successful implementation of this plan.

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The second is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 and limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Whitcomb went on to provide viewers with some historical context about America’s built environment. He said 66 percent of the buildings used by our society in 2050 have already been built today, with only 20 percent of existing buildings being replaced per decade.

In a chart depicting Technology Adoption Rates in U.S. Households from 1970 to 2020, buildings rank as the slowest to adapt to new technologies. Older buildings are typically renovated and upgraded a number of times before a full-scale replacement of the facility is deemed necessary, differing greatly from the adoption rates of other technologies.

Whereas buildings are usually constructed to sustain a service life of 40 to 50 years, vehicles last an average of 12 years before needing replacement, boilers and heavy HVAC equipment last 10 to 20 years, and smartphones are supplanted with newer versions every few years. Whitcomb said this slow rate of adoption for the built environment means architects must design buildings with less of a focus on consumer reaction and more of an emphasis on sustainability and viability for future generations.

Urban Sustainability Opportunities
Whitcomb’s presentation identified three foremost urban sustainability concepts which COTE hopes will become the driving forces for sustainable change to occur in Indianapolis’s built environment.

The first urban sustainability opportunity examined by Whitcomb is called Energy and Water Benchmarking. If implemented, a benchmarking ordinance would require owners of Indianapolis buildings of a certain size to report their energy use annually. Commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet and city-owned buildings over 50,000 square feet would be required to report their energy data each year to receive an Energy Star-based Energy Use Intensity Metrics (EUI) score out of 100.

Benchmarking would encourage Indianapolis building owners to invest in efficiency for cost savings purposes and would create more than a thousand jobs for local engineers, managers, and trades-people.

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“Benchmarking has been recognized as one of the biggest drivers for job growth in the built environment,” Whitcomb said. “There are a lot more jobs and growth potential in energy efficiency than there is in power generation, so saving energy actually creates more jobs than just building more plants to make energy.”

Effective implementation of the benchmarking objective would require a four-year rollout. Year one would be used to educate the community on the new ordinances and collect energy data, Whitcomb said. Then, after enough time passes to allow for a sizeable collection of energy data (which will be made public), Whitcomb said it will take a few additional years for owners to identify necessary improvements for their buildings and begin renovation projects.

“Once we start thinking about energy and talking about it in a transparent and public way, it will drive better decisions for the smart grid and for new buildings,” Whitcomb said. “This plan just begins a conversation that is important for everybody.”

The second urban sustainability opportunity Whitcomb discussed is called Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which would impose design and development requirements for plots near IndyGo’s Bus Rapid Transit lines in an effort to create more walkable and dense developments.

If enacted, TOD would create a better return on infrastructure investments like IndyGo and would reduce average housing and transportation costs for residents living in affected areas. Development patterns in major cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Washington DC, as well as in cities across Europe and Asia, have proven TOD to enhance the market value of an urban area.

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“The Department of Transportation and other creditors are viewing this as a pretty positive influence on their evaluations for projects and DOT funding,” Whitcomb said.

The last urban sustainability opportunity Whitcomb went over is called Electric Vehicle Readiness, which aims to increase electric vehicle ownership in Indianapolis by 300 percent by 2025.

“The vehicle industry and car manufacturers are all going electric,” Whitcomb said. “Significant portions of their fleets will be electrified within the next 5 to 10 years, if not 100 percent in the next 20 years.”

Each aspect of this plan will be introduced for consideration by the City of Indianapolis this month. Whitcomb said the implementation of urban sustainability standards like Electric Vehicle Readiness, TOD, and Benchmarking will introduce more active and vibrant built environments to Indianapolis that will serve to stimulate the City’s growth and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think they’re safer, they’re more exciting, and they’re more active,” Whitcomb said about communities with urban sustainability requirements. “This is where a lot of the newer generation of innovators and kids coming out of school want to live; in places like where they feel like there is excitement and things going on.”

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