Sustainable Infrastructure

-Issue-

Prior development in our area used traditional approaches to design and implement infrastructure that was functional and relevant, improving the quality of life in West Houston. Population growth, increasing resource constraints, aging and failing infrastructure, and environmental and climatic changes pose new challenges for the Greater West Houston region. Infrastructure designers and owners must now innovate to construct projects that provide better economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
-Goal-

The traditional infrastructure development paradigm will shift as planners, designers, and project sponsors partner with elected officials and other policy-makers to create and implement new policies and strategies to promote a network of sustainable, resilient infrastructure in the region.

Sustainable Infrastructure Themes

Bridgeland Tree House Park

Having worked on the Bridgeland property for the past decade, Cate designed Tree House Park with Bridgeland’s environmental focus in mind. The structure is created from renewable pine stock and laced within a century-old oak, giving the impression that the tree organically grew through the tree house.
Lakeland Heights Street Scape

Designed to feel like a small town that’s anchored by a village center, Lakeland Heights has the feel of classic Houston neighborhoods like The Heights and West University Place, but with all of the updated amenities of a new master planned community. Many of the homes  face a waterway or park and all are within walking distance to local schools, Lakeland Activity Center and the future Lakeland Village Center
Cinco Ranch

In Cinco Ranch green isn't just another fad. Water is a precious resource and we do all we can to conserve it:

● Landscaping in newer areas feature wildflower reserves that require less irrigation, fertilizer, and mowing than turf grass.
● New homes feature Bermuda grass to reduce the need for irrigation.
● Homeowners are encouraged to plant trees to increase shade.
● The Cinco Ranch® community has a tree farm to cultivate trees to plant in common areas.
● An irrigation control system maximizes irrigation efficiency.
● A sanitary wastewater reuse system in newer sections of the Cinco Ranch community provide a significant amount of irrigation water for common areas, greatly reducing the need for pumping.
Josey Ranch Road

This road is located in the Master Planned Community, Bridgeland and has no curb and instead has a roadside ditch along with gutters that include storm inlets.
Pope Elementary School

Bridgeland's Pope Elementary school with a wind turbine and solar panel. Pope Elementary is noted for its environmentally-sensitive and unique design, and was built after Bridgeland donated the space for the school in early 2012. The development team at Bridgeland worked closely with Cy-Fair ISD and VLK Architects to ensure Pope took advantage of its park-like setting. It boasts a glass-front library, second-floor reading loft and a multipurpose observation deck that was designed to overlook Cypress Lake in Bridgeland.
Pedestrian Tunnels near Josey Lake

These walkable tunnels are an example of connectability throughout the Bridgeland MPC
WWTP’s tertiary treatment (UV filter)

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Cross Creek Ranch’s Stormwater System

This storm water system is designed to Increase Bayou Conveyance with Natural Channel Design. Cross Creek Ranch’s stormwater system in Fort Bend County, Texas provides an excellent model for natural channel design.  A series of elements – a 50-acre water quality basin, strings of large detention lakes, basins, and the expanded Flewellen Creek – are all designed to replicate a natural flood management process.  Flewellen Creek’s linear system serves as a large-scale model for this natural approach to stormwater management.  The enhanced quality of life and environmental benefits speak for themselves.
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PROJECT SPONSORS

Low Risk Tolerance.  Project sponsors generally seek a low level of risk and occasionally try new planning and design approaches.  

Public Education & Outreach.  Organizations, like West Houston Association (WHA), should work with project sponsors on sustainable planning and design approaches. Programming and awards that celebrate and recognize early success will increase knowledge and the region’s willingness to try new things.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Aging Infrastructure.  Many existing public and private infrastructure projects are nearing the end of, or in many cases exceeding, their design lives impairing the levels of service, quality of life, and economic performance of the region.

Asset Management & Life Cycle Considerations.  Project owners must quickly adopt asset management programs that facilitate preventative and predictive maintenance and rehabilitation that extend the life of existing infrastructure. Going forward, public and private project owners should build more adaptable, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure, which lasts longer and performs better throughout its life cycle.

CONSERVATION

Finite Resources.  There are finite fundamental resources, such as water, energy, and land.  Across the United States, the price of water is rising faster than any other commodity. Contiguous greenfield development is becoming costlier in Greater West Houston.

Conservation & Reuse.  Conservation, innovation, and thoughtful design must be built into developments throughout our region. Redeveloping brownfields and buildings at the end of their useful life will be a critical and potentially lucrative strategy in coping with demand for residential and commercial development in Greater West Houston. Innovative design and use (and re-use) of materials can reduce costs and harm to the environment, making conservation business as usual.  
COSTS

Funding / Investment Constraints.  Current approaches to funding infrastructure are practiced with limited initial capital cost, delayed maintenance, and costly replacements.

Triple-Bottom Line.  Putting more thought into infrastructure procurement may increase initial costs but provide considerable saving and returns over life-cycles. Project sponsors, especially in the public sector, should evaluate projects using a present value analysis over the entire project lifespan. Project decisions should consider internal and external social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits (the Triple Bottom Line).

REGULATIONS

Regulatory & Design Constraints. Prescriptive requirements often frustrate planning, design creativity, project delivery, and taxable values.  Some current legal and regulatory mandates constrain and prohibit sustainable infrastructure. An example is natural drainage stormwater improvements, which face difficulty obtaining bond reimbursement approval from the TCEQ because of unclear language in the Texas Water Code. Another example is the City of Houston’s stormwater fee, which is determined using solely impermeable cover as opposed to post-development run-off volumes.

Improve Standards & Policy.  Permitting authorities should use continuous improvement to update and enhance codes and standards that allow for reasonable flexibility and innovation. Correctly implemented, performance-based standards instead of prescriptive regulations lead to improved project delivery, life-cycles, perceptions of regulators, and tax revenue. The Texas Water Code should be clearer. The City of Houston could impose a detention requirement using a more nuanced approach that considers the pre- and post-development runoff flows and volumes. This would serve to encourage the use of natural drainage systems.