Choosing a site

For new green affordable housing, select a site that will support a healthy community while minimizing the development's environmental impact. Housing in vacant or underutilized land in an urban area has the advantages of existing infrastructure, surrounding neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and job opportunities, as well as transit access. It may be possible to reclaim a brownfield site, and even to receive incentives for doing so. Although a suburban "greenfield" site may seem easy to develop, the hidden costs of environmental disturbance, new utility hookups, and commuting are high.

  • Site visit. Take the design team to assess any strong candidate site in person.
  • Infill sites. Give preference to underutilized urban sites that have access to businesses and transit. Avoid undeveloped suburban sites.
  • Neighborhood design. Opportunities to integrate the development into the existing community are invaluable and can lead to cost-saving flexibility.
  • Evaluate location. Get the details on the site itself (including any possible contamination), the neighborhood, transportation and employment options, utility hook-ups, rush hour traffic, local pollution sources, and crime. These will affect site choice and design.

Site design

Create a design that works with natural features, protecting trees, streams, and soils as parks, effective drainage, and energy-saving shade. Connect buildings to the sun and wind for significant energy savings and work with existing development patterns. Grouping buildings together is often the best way to reduce impacts, provide valuable community greenspace, and cut costs.

  • Inventory the site and select priority natural resource areas to conserve, then write a protection plan to ensure careful construction.
  • Minimize the development footprint by grouping buildings, avoiding steep slopes, placing utilities under roads instead of yards, and landscaping to reduce erosion.
  • Orient buildings to take advantage of sun angles and prevailing winds. (See Leveraging Natural Capital)
  • Fit into the neighborhood by following existing development patterns, addressing community concerns, minimizing construction impacts, and creating shared public space.
  • Manage stormwater by using natural drainage, planning to avoid concentrated flows, and reducing impermeable surfaces.
  • Landscape for sustainability. Use less turf and more trees and native plants. Be sensitive to the watering and maintenance needs when choosing and placing plants.

Minimize construction impacts

Preventing and reducing construction damage to the site requires extra attention and low-impact methods. Proper supervision and coordination on site is important, so be sure to train the construction manager and make sure that all subcontractors are aware.

  • Make it clear that plants, streams, and soils are valued. Fence off priority areas and flag the edges of graded and cleared areas.
  • Avoid soil compaction and resulting plant damage by designating storage and parking areas, covering soil with wood chips or plywood, finding alternatives to trenching, and pruning tree roots.
  • Prevent erosion by scheduling to quickly cover or replant cleared areas, installing and maintaining erosion controls, and storing good excavated soil for replanting.


Casey Trees

Rainwater as a Resource , sustainable stormwater management case studies from Tree People

Reconnecting America's Center for Transit-Oriented Development

Green Communities Criteria Site Improvements and Water Conservation , Enterprise

Green Communities Criteria Location and Neighborhood Fabric , Enterprise

Alameda County's Bay-Friendly Landscaping page

Native Plant Alternatives to Invasives from the National Arboretum