Architecture and DesignIn this issue

Paint the Town Green in 2021

These sustainable trends and focuses are carrying momentum into 2021

By Julia Malisos

Master planned communities are alive and well. While urban living is still desired by many, suburbs are making a comeback. John Burns Real Estate Consulting reports that the pandemic accelerated several migration trends nationally: “Migration from urban to suburban locations increased within metros or regions. Buyers are seeking less density, larger floor plans, and control over private outdoor spaces. Low mortgage rates, relatively affordable housing options, and the shift to working/schooling from home supported suburban migration.”

Along with the trend of migrating back to the ‘burbs is the on-going desire for sustainability. Seemingly counterintuitive for sustainability, the suburbs and planned communities can promote environmentally responsible development with mindful design and green building methods. One of the greatest advantages of master planning is the ability to focus on design features from project inception. It is recommended that plans for sustainable development begin at project kick-off to minimize back-tracking and redesign. Once committed to sustainability, the goals can carry through in perpetuity.

Trending features for planned communities include green building methods and materials, energy-efficiency, multiple housing types, creative open space, jobs/housing balance, and alternative transportation — all which help reduce carbon footprints. 

Water conservation is another impactful sustainable strategy. In arid regions, using drought tolerant plants that are non-invasive and climate appropriate; along with efficient irrigation systems check key sustainability boxes. Turf can be used for sports fields and other lawn amenities, but its uses can be minimized,  maximizing conservation, and lowering maintenance. Creative use of alternative landscape elements and plantings can replace grass, still providing softened and visually pleasing environments.  Furthermore, water quality has become an important issue, requiring engineering designs that support sustainability goals including decreasing impervious surfaces. 

For consumers, green trends mainly involve home features. From operating systems to furnishings, popular preferences include air quality systems, smart home technology, building materials, décor, and adaptable floor plans that meet variable family needs. 

Certain states such as California focus on air quality through their building codes and environmental regulations. However, consumers are now more aware of benefits to cleaner indoor air, exhibiting interest in improved filtration systems and ultraviolet cleaning technologies. 

Additionally, mud rooms are morphing into decontamination spaces. This is a design trend that has become more desirable over the last year, providing the ability to effectively take off shoes and other exposed items in an isolated pre-entry space. 

As devastating as COVID-19 has been, it has slowed down lives in a way that has accelerated opportunities to alter lifestyles for the better. This work/school-from-home experience has urged people to rethink how they “use” their homes. Consumers are reconsidering what they actually need, opting for simplification of items or flexibility in spaces, that make more sense for their routines. Repurposing rooms, creating isolated workspaces, and reorganization have been trending since stay-at-home orders were enacted. 

Wellness and restorative spaces have come to the forefront with more people exercising at home. Not just active exercise, but space for mental relaxation is also trending. From home gyms to bathroom spa retreats, health and wellness is trending for consumers enduring the pandemic and quarantine orders. 

Other home trends growing in 2021 are green building materials; those that are durable and responsibly sourced. From roofing materials to interior cabinetry and furnishings, sustainability is on-trend. Composite roof shingles are being promoted for sustainability as they are longer lasting and more durable than wood or asphalt shingles. Additionally, asphalt shingles use fossil fuels, are not recyclable, and require far more upkeep than composite roof shingles. Bamboo is another sustainable material that has become popular for flooring. Coming from the grass family rather than trees, bamboo does not impact deforestation, is harvested quickly, and is aesthetically pleasing.  Non-VOC paints are now commonplace. Self-mending concrete is another innovative green option. 

“Other home trends growing in 2021 are green building materials; those that are durable and responsibly sourced.”

I would be remiss not to mention transportation in the midst of a sustainability conversation. One of the more entertaining trends are NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles). A practical alternative to driving cars around neighborhoods, planned communities are providing opportunities for NEV use. These zero emission vehicles are more conducive to pedestrian-oriented environments and contribute to community character. 

Master planned communities are typically found in suburban locales. Such new communities often empower opportunities for environmentally friendly development.  Along with development, sustainability incorporates wellness objectives, and with the proper planning and design, enables healthier people through building healthier communities  —  that should make us all want to paint the town green.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a Principal- Planning/Community Design at WHA Architecture, Planning and Design with offices in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and San Ramon. Julia can be reached at

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