Sunday, 06 November 2011 18:22

Infrastructure Strategy: Mixed-Use Suburban Neighborhood Development, Eastern Temperate Forest Ecoregion






Visit the Overview blog post for an introduction to the Building Public Health Blog Library of Strategies.

Visit the Reference section below for the primary source of data incorporated into this blog post.


The context for this proposed design strategy is a mixed-use suburban neighborhood development outside a north-central Connecticut town with roughly 30,000 residents and a median household income close to the 2009 national average of $50,221. The town’s dense, historic center is surrounded by low-density suburban residential neighborhoods that are serviced by shopping centers and big box retail stores located on major thoroughfares. A commercial and light industrial corridor was developed along 3-5 miles of a major roadway in the 1980’s. These businesses employ some local residents; however, many of their employees drive in from other suburbs, and many of the town residents commute to other towns and suburbs to work.

How Resilient Is The Surrounding Infrastructure?

Roads & Transit
    • Multiple transportation routes are available to and from the area, including the major North/South freeway that cuts through the state (Interstate 91), the Northeast Regional Amtrak rail with a nearby stop, CT Transit regional bus lines, and the planned New Haven/Hartford/Springfield commuter rail project

    • Furthermore, bike lanes and trails, while incomplete, are readily available and increasingly developed in the area.

    • A regional airport is also located nearby.

Benefits & Risks – The site’s context is typical of many suburban areas in the U.S. in that it is extremely well connected to roads, but the transportation scale prioritizes cars over other forms of transportation. The level of density both in the site’s region and between the site and major employment hubs, however, merits the use of commuter rail and bike paths to a larger extent than suburbs in less densely populated regions.

Water Source and Distribution
    • Source – The development falls within the jurisdiction of The Metropolitan District (MDC), a non-profit municipal corporation established in 1929 that supplies potable water, wastewater, and stormwater services for Hartford and seven surrounding municipalities. The raw water is sourced from surface water in Connecticut and Massachusetts, most of which flows from watersheds that are owned and protected by the MDC into two large reservoirs about 20 miles from the site.

    • Quality – The MDC treats the water introduced into the potable water system using sand filtration, chlorination, fluoridation, pH adjustment, and corrosion control. An on-site laboratory tests for physical, chemical, and bacteriological contaminants in three locations: the reservoirs, the treatment plants, and designated sampling sites throughout the service area. The 2010 Water Quality Report indicates overall high water quality; however, three of 52 sites tested for lead were found to be above the maximum allowable concentration level of 15 ppb. Back flow prevention (i.e., cross-connection control devices) are required on sites using alternative water sources (such as rainwater collection) and for process water uses, such as irrigation, solar hot water systems, and geothermal wells.

    • Quantity – The MDC website and 2010 Water Quality Report offer water efficiency tips and encourage water conservation generally. However, other than a reported increase in residential irrigation, which may strain water supplies in the future, the services area appears not to suffer at the present from water scarcity.

Benefits & Risks – >The public water system provides access to high quality water; however, two-thirds of its water is treated using a system built in 1929. Furthermore, the distribution and sewer infrastructure was developed in the 1850’s. The system therefore suffers from the vulnerability common to all centralized utilities. The regulations designed to prevent cross-contamination to the public water supply may discourage or not allow installation of certain on-site water collection, treatment, and storage systems, further increasing the region’s vulnerability to loss or widespread contamination of its water supply if the historic water treatment facility is compromised.

    • The public wastewater collection system is also managed by MDC. A main treatment facility and three satellite facilities provide both primary and secondary treatment of effluent from sewers in the service area. All sludge is processed in the main facility in Hartford. Three of these facilities were awarded Gold Peak Performance Awards by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies to recognize 100% compliance with their national pollutant discharge elimination system permit in 2010.

    • The public water and wastewater system was initially developed in the 1850’s and suffers from both combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). The MDC has launched a program called The Clean Water Project with the goals of reducing the number of CSOs, eliminating SSOs, and reducing the levels of nitrogen entering water bodies by 2020. According to the MDC, the sewer separation project will coincide with other infrastructure upgrades such as utility upgrades and street resurfacing.

Benefits & Risks – The public wastewater system provides a high level of wastewater treatment at a low level of individual effort; however, according to the MDC, CSOs and SSOs lead to more than 50 instances a year of untreated sewage entering the Connecticut River. Also, as part of the region’s centralized water/wastewater system, it is vulnerable to the same concerns raised above in the Water section.

    • Connecticut has deregulated its electrical power sector. It is therefore possible for property owners to choose which power company to contract with, including companies that offer renewable energy options. The CT Clean Energy Options Program assists consumers in supporting renewable power by purchasing it through their electric service provider. The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund has established a Clean Energy Communities program that rewards communities that have increased the percentage of renewable power purchased both by the municipal government and by utility customers.

    • The state of Connecticut has instituted a number of policies and programs to incentivize distributed renewable power installations and electric vehicles. For example, the Clean Energy Incentives Program and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund offer rebates and other incentives to residential and commercial/institutional projects that install solar PVs, solar thermal systems, geothermal and heat pump systems, and even small wind generation systems. The Electric Vehicles (EV) Infrastructure Council is charged with overseeing the development of an infrastructure to support EVs and incentivizing their purchase by residents. The Customer-Side Distributed Generation Program offers low interest loans to electric generation and/or conservation projects ≥ 50 kW. It also awards valuable renewable energy credits to applicable generation projects.

Benefits & Risks – Currently, most of the state of Connecticut relies on the centralized electric grid for all of their electric power. However, the state is actively incentivizing the installation of distributed energy generation, particularly from renewable sources. The size of a typical mixed-use suburban neighborhood development would increase the array of electric generation options open to it, some of which could be specific to a building site while others might service the entire development.

Climate Change Impacts

The Adaptation Subcommittee to the Governor of Connecticut’s Steering Committee on Climate Change used downscaled climate models developed by the New York Panel on Climate Change to identify the following climatic changes in the 21st century:

  • Temperature – Annual average temperatures in Connecticut are projected to rise from 4-7.5 °F. The frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves may also increase, while extreme cold events may reduce in frequency.

  • Precipitation – The total amount of precipitation may increase by 5-10%; however, it is projected to fall more often in the form of severe rain events, causing flooding.On the other end of the spectrum, droughts are also expected to increase in frequency, duration, and intensity.

  • Sea Level Rise – Sea levels are projected to rise by 12-23 inches, causing the coastal areas to be more vulnerable to flooding threats associated with extreme storm events. Under the “Rapid Ice-Melt Sea Level Rise” scenario, the sea level may increase by 41-55 inches.

Based on these projections, the subcommittee predicted that the following types of infrastructure will be negatively impacted by climate change:

  • Coastal flood control and protection

  • Dams and levees

  • Stormwater infrastructure

  • Transportation infrastructure (including airports, water ports, railroads, and roadways)

  • Facilities and buildings (including telecommunication, electric generation, interstate gas pipelines, and solid waste management, in addition to vital buildings such as hospitals and fire stations)

Imagine You Were Designing a Mixed-Use Suburban Neighborhood Development in this Community…

Based on the information listed above regarding the current condition of the community and regional infrastructure and its likely future as the climate continues to change, you might consider starting the design process by asking questions such as:

  • Why do the majority of employees along the commercial corridor adjacent to the site choose to commute 30 minutes to work everyday? What amenities are available in their neighborhoods that are not present in the neighborhood surrounding the site? How might you entice them to live closer to work?

  • What are the gaps in the current transportation network that prevent the employees in adjacent businesses from using a combination of public transit and active transportation (i.e., walking and cycling) to commute to and from work? What are the transportation barriers for area residents?

  • How vulnerable is the site to disruption in water supply, electricity, telecommunications, solid waste pick up, and other utilities during an extreme weather event? Are there opportunities to reduce or offset this vulnerability by providing some of these services on-site?

  • Which on-site utilities (such as water collection, energy generation, composting, etc.) should be considered for the entire neighborhood development? Which should be encouraged for specific building projects?

  • What incentives and variances are available through state and local funding sources to help offset the cost of installing energy- and water-efficiency measures, on-site renewable energy generation, etc.?

  • Could the project register as a pilot program for new and innovative technologies that are being developed by companies headquartered in Connecticut? How might this type of program enhance the project's appeal to area landowners, businesses, and future tenants/homeowners?

The answer to these questions might result in solutions similar to the following list of design recommendations, which have been organized to highlight their relevance to building codes, green building programs, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs.


Design Recommendations

Relevance to…




Building/Planning Codes

Green Building Programs

GHG Emissions Programs

1. Provide a range of housing types (multi-family, single family attached, single family detached); sizes (studio, 1-bedroom, multiple bedrooms); and, costs. Focus on the housing types favored by employees of nearby businesses who currently commute long distances to work.

Building code may require certain densities, number of parking spaces, etc., that limit the variety of housing options in the area.

LEED for Neighborhood Development encourages this approach.

Enticing employees of nearby businesses to live close to work can help the township achieve status as a CT Clean Energy Community.

2. Design the development to fill in transportation gaps wherever possible. For example, install bike paths and sidewalks. Work with the regional bus system to connect the site to the commuter rail station, the historic downtown area, and regional shopping centers.

This strategy may help support a request for a variance to reduce the minimum number of parking spots required for the development.

Alternative transportation.

Reduces emissions by reducing the number of trips made in single-occupancy vehicles.

3. Design the site landscaping to retain, filter, and reuse stormwater on-site to reduce erosion, the risk of flooding, and compromising river water quality.

Coordinate with the MDC’s Clean Water Project. (add link)

Erosion control. Stormwater mitigation. Water efficient landscaping.

Reduces emissions by reducing the volume of water processed by the wastewater treatment plant.

4. Maximize the efficiency of water fixtures and eliminate potable water use for landscape irrigation.

Rebates and incentives may be available to help finance some new technologies.

Water use reduction. Water efficient landscaping.

Reduces emissions by reducing demand on the public water system.

5. Pilot test distributed wastewater technologies to reduce demand on the central wastewater system.

Codes will govern the level of treatment required and the type of usage allowed. Coordinate with the MDC’s Clean Water Project. (add link)

Wastewater use reduction.

Reduces emissions by reducing demand on the public wastewater system.

6. Investigate options for on-site rainwater collection, filtering, storage, and reuse.

Codes will govern the level of treatment required and the type of usage allowed. Health and safety codes may not allow rainwater inside buildings.

Erosion control. Stormwater mitigation. Water efficient landscaping. Water use reduction.

Reduces emissions by reducing demand for potable water and reducing the volume of water processed by the wastewater treatment plant.

7. Work with the local public health agency to test the filtration level of onsite water collection and wastewater treatment so that the development is authorized to use it as drinking water.

Codes will govern the level of treatment required and the type of usage allowed.

Stormwater mitigation. Water efficient landscaping. Water use reduction. Wastewater use reduction.

Reduces emissions by reducing demand for potable water and reducing the volume of water processed by the wastewater treatment plant.

8. Investigate options for on-site renewable energy sources.

Incentives may be available to help fund on-site renewable energy installations and pilot projects.

On-site renewable energy.

Reduces emissions by replacing demand for conventional electricity sources with emissions-free energy.

9. Investigate options for an on-site composting program and community garden.

Codes will govern composting activities.

Waste reduction. Water efficient landscaping. Water use reduction.

Reduces emissions by reducing food miles traveled and the energy associated with transporting solid waste.

10. Require all residential buildings in the development to be designed as net-zero energy homes and all commercial buildings to be designed to support passive survivability during an extreme weather event.

Incentives may be available to help fund energy efficiency, water efficiency, and on-site renewable energy strategies.

Energy optimization. Water use reduction. On-site renewable energy.

Reduces emissions by reducing demand on the central energy and water systems and by replacing demand for conventional electricity sources with emissions-free energy.


Adaptation Subcommittee to the Governor’s Steering Committee on Climate Change (April 2010), The Impacts of Climate Change on Connecticut Agriculture, Infrastructure, Natural Resources and Public Health (link)

Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (link)

Connecticut Clean Energy Incentives Program (link)

Connecticut Customer-Side Distributed Generation Program (link)

Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (link)

Connecticut Electric Vehicles (EV) Infrastructure Council (link)

CT Clean Energy Options Program, available at: (link)

CT Transit (link)

The Metropolitan District (MDC) (link)

New Haven/Hartford/Springfield commuter rail project (link)

U.S. Census (link)

U.S. EPA Level I Ecoregions (link)


Are you interested in learning about how this type of assessment can benefit your design project or existing facility? Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for additional information about our services and a free initial consultation.


Copyright: © Biositu, LLC, and Building Public Health, 2011.


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