Most people now reside in urban centers, but we need to contain urban sprawl to leave room for nature.  This means more multi residential (multi-res) developments, which need to improve to create better urban centers. 

Improvements mean better architecture such as more spacious living units, more private and communal outdoor space, all residences orientated north, no overshadowing neighbors, and much more.  These improvements are obvious, but can still present a challenge for the developers financial success.

On top of this however, there is another more challenging level of improvement that so far has eluded us; self-sufficient multi-res developments.

Self-sufficiency here means energy, water and food largely produced on-site.  Full self-sufficiency seems improbable in today’s market, but we need to start.

Technically, largely self-sufficient multi-res developments are quite doable, but profiting from them is the challenge.  Apparently, global food, water and health problems can be fixed quickly if it was profitable.

Profitability as judged by current market expectations, seems to be the problem.

Let’s first look at the three areas of self-sufficiency that affect multi-res developments; energy, water and food.

Energy Self-Sufficiency

Energy in our context is electricity.  Electrical self-sufficiency means a big up-front infrastructure cost based around solar collectors and wind turbines, extending to end-user appliances and battery storage systems.  Connection to off-site supply sources is still needed for times when on-site production is low.

Use of monitoring technology and part-time input from an electrical consultant would be required, and residents would need some education on the systems.

Water Self-Sufficiency

Water self-sufficiency also means an up-front infrastructure cost, but smaller than that required for electricity.  The infrastructure would be based around rainwater harvesting and grey water drainage with appropriate residence fixtures.

Roof and pavement catchment areas are required for harvesting rainwater.  Raw collected rainwater can only be used for irrigation and some cleaning.  Additional infrastructure would be needed to treat rainwater for upgraded use.

Gray water (waste water uncontaminated by sewage and chemicals) drainage systems from each residence requires a separate infrastructure to rainwater harvesting.  Without treatment, gray water can only be used for irrigation.

Use of monitoring technology and part-time input from a hydraulic technician would be required, and residents would need some education on the systems.

Food Self-Sufficiency

Multi-res developments realistically would be unable to produce all food for all residents.  Partial production can be achieved but it would still require significant infrastructure and maintenance.

Available land is needed, augmented by modern vertical farming systems.  Evolving technology would increase productivity.  Some portion of large residence decks and spacious interiors could be used for small scale herbal gardens.

Animal produce could be part of food production but only on a small scale, say chickens for eggs or a small fishery.  This would attract authority approvals and inspections.  Hygiene and waste disposal systems would need to be provided.

For food production, possibly full-time input from an agricultural technician would be required, and residents would need some education to be able to participate.

Infrastructure Cost Reductions

Some self-sufficiency for multi-res development is needed.  Cities are dependent on external supplies which has an environmental cost.  Also, a disruption in supply could result in a crisis for the city.

While this self-sufficiency is a good thing, to build and maintain its infrastructure using traditionally funded procurement methods, appears prohibitive.  However, alternatives inspired by entrepreneurial innovation may find answers.

  • Residents would willingly pay for on-site produced commodities, and also a small café using these commodities could be part of the development. Profits from both these sources of income could pay for the infrastructure.
  • Maintenance deals could include providing technicians with on-site accommodation.
  • Infrastructure material manufacturers and suppliers could receive non-monetary rewards, such as future marketing opportunities, agreements for future works, and long-term maintenance deals.
  • Once residents and sponsors are established, there are always ways to do business with back-end commerce over the life-cycle of the development.

With time and effort, other alternatives would become apparent.  And once the self-sufficiency market catches on, its costs would reduce.

The Social Benefits of Self-Sufficiency

Self-sufficiency, even in partial form, would add to the independence of residents, inspiring increased gratitude and social bond, which would strengthen with the participation in, and the sharing of agricultural production.

Residents would have the opportunity to get outside into nature, to socialize, and to be educated.  Additionally, the load on external sources of energy, water and food would reduce.

All this is good news for our society.  People, knowing that their basic necessities are self-provided would be inspired to share their experience which could lead to a positive contagion effect.  We just need, for now, the entrepreneurs to make a start.

By Greg Blain, Director, ArchiAssist Pty Ltd