Architect and developer Don J Clark Group and landscape architects Office of Cheryl Barton (OCB) are currently at work on the initial phases of the world’s first high desert biome eco-district, West 2nd District, a new $1.2 billion purpose-built neighborhood in the heart of downtown Reno, Nevada.
The project proposes taking over a series of underutilized lots in order to jumpstart an ecologically driven neighborhood containing 1,900 housing units, 450,000 square feet of office space, and 250,000 square feet of retail space. The nearly 30-building district will provide needed market-rate and workforce housing as well, with 20 percent of rental units available as affordable housing for those who qualify.
The construction of a new district—bounded along its southern edge by the Truckee River, a tributary to Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe—also represents a special opportunity to connect Reno to nature more efficiently than piecemeal implementation would. OCB is looking to integrate the district’s street life with the surrounding natural habitat in biome-specific ways. “We are very interested in the authenticity of the landscape and in bringing the larger ecology into the city,” Cheryl Barton said. Barton aims to plant over 300 trees across the 17-acre site; the firm aims to establish and expand a sense of pedestrian comfort on the street by reducing heat-island effect. OCB is also embedding expanses of vertical and horizontal gardens throughout the plan, including on rooftops. Barton explained further: “We are taking an artistic approach to the paseo design—there will be broad, shallow channels [embedded in the paseos] that can be used for patio seating regularly and, during the rainy season, can collect water.”
The district will be fully integrated with regard to stormwater sequestration and wastewater treatment, and will also employ a variety of digital tools to monitor and control these adaptive systems. For Barton, the relationship between these technical components and her efforts to make Reno’s streetscapes more bearable are two sides of the same coin. “Landscapes are a system like any other: It’s all about understanding the climate, the water, the soil, and the connectivity of that system, and bringing that understanding into the public realm.”
One hope is that the West 2nd District can feed Reno’s booming technology industry. Reno is affordable—and a 45-minute flight from Silicon Valley—so it is absorbing regional economic and population growth. Tesla operates its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno, and Apple operates cloud-computing servers in the area as well.
The influx of technology-related capital is a boon for Reno, and continued investment will likely fuel the continued growth of West 2nd. “We are focusing on a lot of categories,” said Don Clark, “from being an eco-district to pursuing LEED accreditation to focusing on walkable communities and complete streets—and are ultimately making a new, next-generation, integrated section of a city.”