“Social distancing” and “dense urban housing” are not the best bedfellows, but they are our reality. Unfortunately, so is a downtown that’s seeing extremely hard times due to the pandemic, economic downturn and social unrest. From stay-at-home orders to empty storefronts, 2020 has redefined urban living. Yet we believe people will and do continue to crave community, social interaction and collaboration opportunities that only cities can afford. It’s just going to take some innovation on the development and design front to ensure urban housing meets residents’ needs.

Preferences to Necessities

Because of the pandemic, our design and development plans are changing rapidly, but also purposefully. Once considered luxuries, natural light, office space and access to the outdoors have huge impacts on everyday quality of life, particularly during a pandemic when residents are ordered to shelter in place.

Natural Light

An abundance of natural light used ton only be afforded to larger units or those with prominent locations and sweeping city views. But having to stay home for an extended period of time heightens the importance of natural light and its effect on physical and mental health. No matter the size or location of an apartment unit, residents demand natural light, and lots of it. Top-tier finishes, storage space and great amenities are perks, but they won’t outweigh the premium you’ll get for oversized windows.

Outdoor Space

Nothing makes you want to go outside like being told you can’t, and not having easy access to outdoor spaces in a pandemic is disheartening at best. Residents want a place to sit in a lawn chair and get fresh air, whether private or communal. An outdoor space doesn’t have to be expansive, but it does need to be celebrated. Creating small pockets of intimate outdoor space with comfortable furniture is a good way for multiple residents to enjoy outdoor features and can be accommodating to social distancing guidelines. Also, developers shouldn’t underestimate the power of a Juliet balcony – large windowed doors that can open wide and let you pull up a chair is an effective use of interior and exterior space.

Working from Home

During the pandemic, many people with the ability to work from home had to create makeshift workspaces quickly, which ended up being their couch or their bed. Moving forward, work from home policies will likely become more flexible. To make them sustainable for employees living in urban housing, developers need to get creative on how to incorporate true workspaces into compact apartments. Fortunately, 10 square feet is really all you need to carve a built-in desk nook into an apartment unit. Well-placed outlets, a sturdy hard surface and good light is all it takes, because working from a bed or couch just won’t cut it for a lot of people moving forward.

Quality of Place and Mixed-Use Space

These design elements – more light, outdoor spaces and work from home options – are far from the only considerations for a multifamily development in downtown Indianapolis. When in the early stages of development, “quality of place” is a major factor, i.e., developing or redeveloping in an area where people want to live and visit. Of course, quality of place can’t be created in a vacuum. A downtown’s ecosystem is by nature interconnected, and the success of any one project is reliant upon whether it’s serving the needs of the existing community. Urban housing helps to not only benefit those looking for a downtown living experience, but it creates a residential density that further serves to make downtown safer, more diverse and a more vibrant place for business, tourism and entertainment.

In particular, mixed-use spaces contribute to urban housing and spur local business initiatives. Like development in general, there is no-one-size-fits-all solution for designing urban retail because downtown is unique – sometimes even from block to block – and the goal is to attract a broad and diverse set of retail tenants. This may mean it could be a restaurant or bakery, whereas other times it’s an interactive art space like Artistry Indy’s first Friday rotating art gallery. Developers must continually look for new ways to design retail that’s both functional for multiple different uses, but also affordable to be able to continue supporting local and independent retailers and residents.

COVID-19 may have prompted us to prioritize certain design features within an apartment unit, but the hardships downtown Indy is currently facing have not changed our commitment to mixed-use urban housing. A pandemic and protests have disrupted what Indy looks like today, but that gives us all the more initiative to continue creating inviting urban spaces for current and future residents.

As Vice President of Development, Brad Vogelsmeier is responsible for managing all aspects of Milhaus development projects including site identification, concept design, zoning and approvals, design, engineering, feasibility, marketing, projections, budget, construction, lease-up, and delivery in Indianapolis and other emerging markets.

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