For those who live in urban centers, navigating life during COVID-19 has meant rethinking use of green spaces. Pre-COVID, the local park, courtyard or well-designed backyard may have been a nice-to-have amenity, but the pandemic brought to light the importance of accessible green spaces for both physical and emotional wellbeing. From socially distant picnics and playdates to outdoor fitness classes and leisurely walk-and-talks, green spaces have become an essential antidote to isolation, with many city dwellers rediscovering the joys of moving leisure activities outside.
As the nation heads into summer ‘21 with a robust COVID-19 vaccine rollout underway and a majority of states moving towards full re-openings, green spaces continue to remain popular from both a usage and planning perspective. The zeitgeist shift, namely a renewed desire to spend more time outdoors, looks to be here for the foreseeable future. Additionally, data shows measurable health benefits of increasing urban green spaces, leading architects and designers to conceptualize new ways to increase access to the natural world in the context of high-density residential living.
We recently sat down with architect David Hovey Jr., President and COO of design-driven real estate development firm Optima, Inc., to learn more about how his firm is integrating green spaces into urban residential developments. “Well-designed green spaces will continue to be critically important in any residential development moving forward,” Hovey says. “COVID certainly brought about an immediacy to offering residents creative solutions to engage with their natural surroundings. A new, or renewed, desire to spend more time outdoors was the catalyst for us to further commit to outdoor amenity offerings.” For example, Hovey notes that, upon seeing the booming popularity in backyard entertaining during 2020, his team pivoted plans for a new build in Chicago to incorporate “new ways for residents to connect with the outdoors” such as modifying terraces to equip them with built-in grills and fire pits so people can have a more fluid indoor-outdoor lifestyle.
Hovey’s team is also incorporating lush landscaped courtyards and signature vertical landscaping systems into their building designs to “help residents find an easy way to reinvigorate during off hours, or find themselves inspired while working, something we expect many people will continue to do remotely.” In addition to connecting residents with nature, vertical landscaping is an effective means of filtering out pollutants and carbon dioxide, Hovey explains, which is an added health benefit for residents living in dense urban centers.
Hovey offered the following examples of Optima’s creative implementation of additional outdoor/green space into post-pandemic urban residential settings:
- At Optima Kierland, Optima’s signature vertical landscaping system creates a lush view from each resident’s terrace, while 100% underground parking allows for an additional 5.5 acres of courtyards throughout the community.
- Optima Kierland’s rooftop yoga studio is enclosed by glass with retractable walls, so residents can open the wall and practice yoga and meditation from the roof – all while taking in mountain views and breathing in desert breezes.
- Optima Kierland offers a rooftop running track. Residents can run outdoors around the track with 360-degree views and the benefits of a green roof, which includes both green landscaping and trees.
- When designing two neighboring high-rise apartment towers in downtown Chicago, the outdoor entry plaza was designed to invite members of the surrounding community to take advantage of seating at its landscape planters while enjoying public art.
According to Hovey, these types of planned green spaces are going to become increasingly important in post-pandemic urban centers, as architects and designers continue to find new ways to create “easily accessible green spaces that give residents an opportunity to connect with their natural surroundings.”