Transitioning to Tomorrow’s Buildings

Unique Opportunities for Local Governments Pursuing Sustainable Building Goals in 2021 and Beyond

The question of what buildings should be in the future is not new. However, the paradigm-shifting shocks resulting from the COVID-19 crisis in 2020-2021 have created a unique window of opportunity for cities and counties to accelerate changes in buildings that can support healthier, happier occupants, a more sustainable environment, a thriving economy, and changing community needs. From underutilized offices to changing needs for physical space and reliable energy, it still isn’t clear what the “new normal” looks like now and whether our relationship with buildings is forever changed.

With due caution, this paper looks ahead to the future to try to understand what decisions local governments are grappling with as they consider what to do with both publicly and privately-owned buildings in the context of crisis recovery as well as stronger local, State, and federal commitments to climate change and equity. This report highlights how California’s buildings were affected by the COVID crisis and explores why 2021 is a chance for local governments to implement innovative and sustainable building solutions across sectors to meet current and future needs, such as:

“The President recognizes the opportunity that retrofitting and modernizing our nation’s existing buildings presents, which is why his American Jobs Plan American Jobs Plan promises to build, rehabilitate, and retrofit more than two million homes across the country while also improving our nation’s federal facilities.” 5/17/21 White House Factsheet

“Amid record-breaking temperatures driven by climate change, California’s electricity grid will continue to be stressed more and more every year. The California Comeback Plan will help the state build a cleaner, resilient and reliable 22nd century electric grid.” CA Governor’s Proposed Budget

  • Adapting codes, permitting processes, and efficiency incentives to support businesses that wish to upgrade or repurpose underutilized buildings
  • Retrofitting and/or repurposing underutilized public facilities to lower costs, energy use, and meet new community needs from data centers to to low cost housing
  • Supporting telework for public employees to minimize the need for building space
  • Supporting economic recovery, including local revenues, by encouraging building retrofits and providing workforce development opportunities
  • Working locally and with State policymakers to improve energy resilience and reliability in homes and critical community facilities
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