From finance to design, the choices we make about what, where, and how to build our physical environment influence urban sustainability, equity, and resilience — today and for years to come. Our rapidly urbanizing world faces major challenges, ranging from climate change to social inequality. We need real estate professionals who have a deep knowledge of how development can bring positive benefits to society and the environment, and who understand the power of design to make cities efficient, livable, distinctive, and valued.
Predicated on the availability of plentiful land, limitless cheap energy, and the promise of unconstrained mobility, postwar cities were dependent on car access. This pattern of conventional development has proved neither sustainable, scalable, nor just and had a wide range of unintended consequences. It consumes too much land too quickly, destroys valuable habitat, and creates pollution, congestion, and waste (energy, water, time, etc). Government-backed mortgages, government-sanctioned redlining as well as exclusionary and racialized zoning fueled social and racial segregation and stymied wealth creation and economic opportunity. This urban form also left local jurisdictions with billions in unfunded infrastructure liabilities and underfunded schools and other urban services.
We’re quickly learning that this pattern of urban development is ill-equipped to deal with the effects of a changing climate, changing demographics, and scarcity of public funds. There is a growing realization that going forward our cities will need to make much better use of existing infrastructure and be oriented around walkable urbanism. We must re-assemble the constituent parts of cities that we disassembled in the postwar project, with greater mixing of uses and people, supported by more sustainable mobility options.
Change won’t be easy. In high-demand, growing cities, homeowners claim change will have a negative impact on property values, schools, traffic, parking, and community character. More credibly, communities of color and lower income communities worry that gentrification will displace residents who have few other options. It would be easy to be cynical about the paradox of increased community resistance to change at precisely a time when change is most urgently needed, if not for a growing movement towards innovative and inclusive design-oriented development.
UC Berkeley’s new Master of Real Estate Development + Design (MRED+D) is pioneering this new approach to development. The MRED+D is training the next generation of developers to understand that innovative design, good urbanism, and concern for social impact are the essential ingredients for creating places of lasting social, economic, and environmental value. This new design-oriented development is being driven by entrepreneurialism, tech savvy investors, and social enterprise as big cities grapple with changing mobility technologies, the sharing economy, shifting demographics, and changing consumer preferences.
Design-oriented development departs from conventional development in important ways. Design thinking — the iterative process of problem finding, prototyping solutions, and iterative critique — is fundamental to producing the most valued and valuable real estate projects. Design combines the analytical and the intuitive, allowing developers to understand the inherent value of given sites and the environmental, policy, and economic forces acting upon them. And design can be used to create value where inherent value does not exist. Places with high urban design quality also integrate into their context and make a positive contribution to the surrounding city. Design thinking also facilitates more positive neighborhood engagement by allowing neighbors to visualize form and massing to better understand impacts and help shape outcomes to broaden the benefits of development.
Design also leverages innovative thinking about sustainability — site selection to minimize vehicle miles traveled, adaptive reuse wherever feasible, conserving water, treating and re-using wastewater, rainwater harvesting or energy efficient, and net positive buildings to name a few. Not only are these climate-positive approaches, they have an enduring impact, particularly on our most vulnerable neighbors, as sustainable development lowers on-going energy and living costs. Design-oriented development is also embracing new techniques and technologies to build components or entire sections of buildings off-site, using modular and pre-fabrication to increase quality and lower on-site labor costs, and build faster. Taken together, design-oriented development is about building more resilient cities and aligning how we grow with broader social, economic, and environmental policy goals.
We are training the next generation of design-oriented developers to take up this challenge. We invite you to join us in building the MRED+D into the exemplar of innovative real estate development education nationally and globally. We are confident that in the years ahead, as our graduates take on leadership roles in development, finance, government, community organizations, and design practice, we will see new development that benefits local neighborhoods, champions innovative design, creates great urban places, and helps us prepare for climate change while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions – in short, that helps build prosperous, sustainable and equitable cities.