Eco-friendly restoration of old housing

How can the now dilapidated 1970s American ‘blocks’ be effectively and sustainably restored? The University of California’s Eco-Block project endeavours to offer some solutions and is developing a pilot programme in a district of Oakland.


Until the second half of the 20th century, urban expansion in the US was all about the development of standardized residential neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods now need renovating and their initial design needs rethinking so as to adapt to the challenge posed by climate change.
 
This is the aim of the Eco-Block project launched by UC Berkeley in Oakland, California. This urban redevelopment applied research programme aims to test the hypothesis that block-scale renovation is more effective than individual home-scale renovation because it generates greater efficiencies and flows are pooled.
 
A unique approach
The pilot project will be designed and rolled out in the Golden Gate neighbourhood in the north-west corner of the city. The aim is to trial an energy, water and wastewater treatment and reuse system and develop a highly effective and economical ‘block-scale’ renovation process, which could be replicated elsewhere.
 
Project specifics are as follows:
  • Individually renovate the energy and water distribution and wastewater treatment systems of the block’s 28 townhouses to convert them into high energy and ecological performance housing.
  • Link these homes to a smart operating system whose energy requirements are fully met by solar power and whose water usage is cut by recycling wastewater and grey water, rainwater collection and the use of water-saving fixtures and taps.
In phase one of the project, 28 townhouses will have their individual energy and water distribution and wastewater treatment systems renovated. The same houses will then be connected to a ‘smart’ operating system, which will manage energy and water use in an eco-friendly way (using solar energy, recycling wastewater and grey water, collecting rainwater, using water-saving fixtures and taps etc.).
 
Pooling international expertise
The Eco-Block project has a total budget of €12.8 million and is supported by the Universities of Berkeley and Stamford, the Rexel Foundation, NASA and the City of Oakland. The Veolia Foundation has been asked to provide its water treatment and recycling expertise. The Foundation is once again involved in innovation, this time in the field of forward-looking urban design.