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Optimized model for habitation with a high quality of life and general human health as a means to fossil-fuel-free habitation.


Summary / Résumé

The Holistic Community Design (HCD) proposal is a blueprint for habitation design providing a higher quality of life and general human health than the typical suburban home or apartment as well as an avenue towards fossil-fuel-free habitation.

Economies of scale - via high density and large scale projects reduce the cost per unit allowing for higher  investment providing a superior quality of life and sustainability.

Site of 350x350 meters with 3000 apartments where the buildings enclose a green common.

Habitation for the future to be evaluated as an interconnected living entity forming the neighborhood meeting a list of vital needs (currently with little to no priority in home evaluations)

The following is a list of criteria I propose to meet the HCD model for a community to meet human health/enjoyment needs:

1. Opportunities for interaction and a rich community life embedded with attractive green areas providing a sense of belonging and communal territorial identity.

2. On-site services including, shopping, entertainment, medical, daycare, schools meeting the demand of the community of about 10000 people  (reducing commuting and increasing the quality of life)

3. Common body of water that also serves as swimming pool, skating in the winter, recreation 4. Extensive sporting facilities both indoor and outdoor.

5. High quality and spacious apartments with abundant natural light, large balconies / terraces providing private outdoor space.

6. Grazing animals - organized/mobile enclosure for sheep, goats etc. providing a calming and enchanting effect as
well as environmental benefits.

7. Financial resources for the community via ownership of commercial spaces - at the ground level of the apartment buildings - providing rental income to the community, part of which can be used to subsidize the purchase of green energy

8) Allocated facilities for Telecommuting

Points 1) to 8) provide the means for sustainability via

A) High Density

B) Green Energy

C) No Landfills  

D) Minimal Commuting

What actions do you propose? / Quelles actions proposez-vous?

The definition for the Holistic Community Design model was considered versus Optimal Community Design which in a technical sense would be more accurate as it requires continuous process of optimization and balancing of priorities versus resources. However the term Holistic captures the goal more accurately rather than the process.  According to the term Holistic is defined as: relating to the the medical consideration of the complete person, physically and psychologically

The HCD model proposes to address both the physical and psychological opportunities for improvement in human health and well being relative to the traditional way of urban design where buildings are developed rather randomly based on opportunities. The HCD provides equal or better opportunities while creating superior outcomes for all. 

Cities have numerous under-utilized sites such as malls and parking lots that present opportunities to capture the economic benefits as well as advanced sustainability  and high quality of life  provided by the Holistic Community Design (HCD) model. Areas that provide low income housing, that are large enough, also present opportunities for the HCD model. 

The example below is in the Boston area, though any city that has public housing in an area that has a high enough demand for for profit housing to the extent that the private prices are sufficiently high to afford fully green development as well as to offer purchasing ability at lower prices for all existing occupants.

Currently there are about 300 units in the Newtowne Court in Cambridge. The HCD model can accommodate 3000 units and provide the existing residents the opportunity to purchase the new apartments with mortgage payments no higher than their current rent.

Human habitation works best when it is part of an ecosystem that optimizes access to essential needs including evolutionary features. The HCD layout has buildings surrounding a common space for communal interaction as well as recreation.

While further research needed for determining optimal size of the HCD this example assumes 3000 apartments forming a community of about 10000 residential occupants. Besides meeting communal needs the HCD model lowers the cost per via economies of scale – this also makes possible purchase about 10% of the units at affordable prices by low income population

By providing a higher quality of life than the suburban home the HCD model helps reduce emissions per person  via higher density.  The HCD model has a higher density by nearly a factor of ten compared to the suburbs while providing same or larger sized homes as in the suburbs with a superior quality of life.

The essential value proposition in this model is a blueprint for habitation design providing a higher quality of life and general human health than the typical suburban home or apartment complex as an avenue and a means towards developing a fossil-fuel-free residential model. 

The higher quality of life is provided via onsite availability of

-          1. design with opportunities for rich community life including attractive green areas, parks and playgrounds

-          2. on-site services including, shopping, medical, daycare and preschool and more


-          3. Common body of water that serves as swimming pool, skating, recreation


-          4. Extensive sporting facilities both indoor and outdoor


-          5. High quality apartments with abundant natural light, large balconies / terraces, size apartments over 2100 SF – larger than the average suburban home at 2000 SF

-       6. Mobile enclosure for sheep, goats etc. increasing human health -  calming and enchanting effect as well as environmental benefits



7. Financial resources for the community via ownership of some of the commercial spaces by the condo association providing rental income to the community - part of which can be used to subsidize the purchase of green energy

8) Allocated facilities for Telecommuting - Each  community has sufficient subsidized office spaces on site allocated for telecommuting for all the occupants that request it. For example at about $200/month anyone in the complex can rent an office with related facilities for telecommuting office space. This feature will increase the number of telecommuters by making it more acceptable for employers given a formal office space. Therefore will contribute to a higher quality of life and lower emissions via less commuting.

In addition to the commercial spaces provided by the first 2-3 floors of the building there is one dedicated office building to accommodate an extensive number of workplaces in order to increase the opportunities for working on site and thus further reduce commuting reqiorements  


High density – approx. 40k people per Sq. mile. – each community fits about 10k per ONE FOURTH of a square mile

High quality of life  - via features listed 1-8

Fossil-fuel-free habitation  - via features listed in A, B, C and D

A) High Density

B) Green Energy - fully electrified heating and cooking 

C) No Landfills  

D) Minimal Commuting



The higher costs per apartment also include development of waste management facilities on site including dedicated spaces in each apartment and on each floor for collecting composting, Composting is an important feature for reducing greenhouse gasses.

"composting directlyreduces carbon dioxide (CO2) and other powerfulgreenhouse gases, like methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Composting is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ... Landfills are the single largest human source of methane emissions in the world."                       

Each apartment will have access to composting.

An advanced  system for convenient hygienic and efficient composing  will be required which allows every apartment to dispose all related food items directly from the kitchen. The compost containers can be collected by special vehicles in the underground area of the building.

There will be a greater spectrum of recyclables collection including a space dedicated on every floor (or at least in every building) to dispose separately of textiles, electronics, wood products  and more rather than just glass and plastic as we have today. Using the above features the project has  a “zero landfill policy”


Ownership of some commercial spaces by the condo association, allows the community to make decisions regarding optimal services needed. For example, if there is a shortage of medical offices, or restaurants, daycare etc, these can be given a priority for the new leases.


Below are related questions and answers received in comment section:

how can you objectively tell what holistically is the best community design? Should there be a pond? Or does it need to be a lake for that size and density of community?

There is no finite answer to what makes the best community design but we do know that the presence of water is beneficial for mental and physical health. In terms of size there is research needed to come up with concrete numbers. The example I am looking at is a rectangular area of about 300x300 FT. There would need to be a limit how much surface the buildings should take up in to in order to keep the green area to a minimal size that accommodates (a portion of)  some 10,000 residents. Similarly the pond/pool needs to be large enough to serve the residents.   

There can be a number of HCD sizes from small - about 3000 residents - medium of 5-6000 residents - and large at about 10,000 residents. 

Should the housing be high density? Or should it be integrated with renewable energy and aquaponics? 

You are right about the density that it needs to be measured flexibly - to account for presence of aquaponics.   So for example if the standard would be 10k residents per 300x300 FT, the number could be lowered to 9k residents if one of the buildings is for aquaponics.


How do you prevent this approach from becoming one person's subjective vision of sustainability rather than an objectively optimized vision of sustainability that an entire collective effort can be organized around?

to make the model objectively optimized for sustainability as well as for high quality of life it is important to have a good balance of requirements as well as flexibility. In the image below I am showing a "checklist" that can be developed to help the city, the developer and the consumer to rank the elements of sustainability and quality of life in the project. My hope is that cities will use this model and designate / incentivize certain areas to be developed as holistic communities. Among the benefits to the city are greater revenues and lower costs as it is more effective to provide services, especially roads and water, than in the traditional model of random/spread out development. 

Most advanced levels of HCD model can include zero energy buildings, and LEED certifications.

What the HCD model brings is:

- economies of scale -> enable investment in more sustainable as well as higher quality and size apartments

- attractive investment model by pooling resources of city governments, multiple developers and financial institutions as well as future occupants attracted to invest in advance.

- Higher quality of life by embedding in the community attractive parks, schools, shopping, jobs and telecommuting facilities,  ample recreation spaces with opportunities to socialize, security,  minimal commuting needs.

Which types of stakeholders are involved, in which way? / Quels types de parties prenantes sont impliqués, de quelle façon?

Housing Authority would need to take the initiative. The vital factors for the success of the project are in bringing the best leadership and the ideal financial institutions, combined with architecture firms and developers.


How could the actions be scaled up at the neighborhood or city level? / Comment serait-il possible d'augmenter la portée des actions à l'échelle des quartiers ou de la ville?

Given the superior quality of life offered by the HCD model there is reason to believe that the model will become attractive and eventually become a significant segment in the future of housing markets. In the image below is an example in Cambridge, MA of a land area currently underused by its extensive allocation as parking lots and single floor shopping plaza.

Cities have an abundant number of such malls and parking lots that can be converted to HCD models. The image below shows a start with additional HCD complexes in a city such as Cambridge, MA.

In about two decades the HCM model can proliferate to become the dominant model. In an optimistic scenario a metro area  such as Boston there may be as many as 100 HCMs. With each community having about 10,000 people this would result in sustainable habitation for over one million people as well as a dramatic  drop in urban sprawl which further helps the ecosystem. Urban sprawl is known to be a great factor impacting emissions.

Given the above scenario the HCM model can be one of the most efficient ways to have an impact on greenhouse gas emission. Over two decades even if it was to attract only 10 percent of the US population to such housing it would have a domino effect on moving away from habitation using fossil fuels and extensive commutes and urban sprawl.

Reducing pressure on commuting needs

The Holistic Community Design (HCD) model reduces sharply the commuting needs for its occupants:

Jobs available on site

Assuming each HCD has about 3000 apartments where the first two-three floors are dedicated for commercial use. To estimate the commercial space available we will count 10 buildings with about 20,000 SF per floor.

3 floors for each building 10 -> total commercial space  600,000 Square Feet.

Additionally the HCD includes an office building  providing another 600,000 SF of commercial space.

At 300 Square Feet per worker the commercial spaces and the office building provide approximately 4000 jobs which is 40% of the total of 10000 occupants.

Percentage of the population is that is working. Total of 154 million full time and part time workers in the US out of a population of 325m giving a ratio 47% for working population. See websites in references.




What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change? / Quels impacts auront ces actions sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre et l'adaptation aux changements climatiques?


10000 - total occupants in an HCD model

4000 - jobs available on site  - i.e. to 40% of the occupants - per total square footage of commercial space (1.2M sf at 300sf per job)

47% - percentage of working population out of the total US population

If 1 in 4 of the working occupants will be able to find a job on site the model eliminates commuting for a significant  need for commuting. Additionally the availability of schools and services on site provides a significant reduction in commuting.

70% of workers commute to work in Metro Boston

. By 2030 “ metro Boston will take in 239,000 more people -a 17.5 percent spike.”

"...80,000 more cars and trucks per day to the region’s roads, clogging a system ... to virtual gridlock,”

If the HCD model is incentivized by governments , by 2030 the number of cars hitting the roads can be reduced. If 50 HCD locations are completed by 2030  -> 500,000 occupants with low commuting needs. The upfront costs to governments via incentives are compensated by savings in building new roads and various services,


Given the potential as described above, the impact on CO2  - both for the US and globally - can be estimated  

Estimated emission reductions from this proposal (relative to BAU) if the proposal is fully adopted:

2020 - 1%         2030 - 5%          2040 - 20%            2050 - 30%   


Estimated percentage adoption 

2020 - 3%         2030 - 5%          2040 - 20%            2050 - 30%   

The estimates take in account the reduction in emissions from travel needed to commute to work, daycare and various services and recreation, which are going to be available within the Holistic Community Design (HCD) model. 

Additionally there will be significant reductions in total CO2  as a result of: 

- reduced urban sprawl - expected strong adoption in the suburbs

-  adoption of net zero energy buildings (or at least renewable energy for heating and cooking) in the process of building  the new HCD model 


What are the other environmental, economic or social benefits? / Quels sont les autres bénéfices environnementaux, économiques et sociaux?


The model provides an emissions free living with all home needs as well as driving needs powered by electricity from renewable sources.


Such projects will provide valuable experimentation on a large scale for sustainable housing bringing new technologies as well as lowering the prices for green buildings. 

Lower obesity rates via attractive places to walk while socializing

Improved mental health – sense of belonging and purpose as well as responsibility via active contact with the community  –> likely a reduction in drug addiction - given the availability of recreational spaces for youth as well as opportunities to connect with others.


There are many large high-tech and biotech companies that are struggling to attract employees because lack of quality housing in the vicinity of the work location. Employers can cooperate and initiate HCD models in their vicinity and thus the availability of labor.

HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE FOR POPULATIONS CURRENTLY IN PUBLIC HOUSING - green spaces, swimming pools, sporting facilities, healthy social interactions and more

IMPROVED EQUITY - AND ULTIMATELY LOWER INCOME DISPARITY - in the new environment the low income earners will have both better conditions and greater motivation and purpose to seek higher incomes and better education

LOWER CRIME - The model provides for safer environments

LOWER COSTS TO GOVERNMENTS - reduced spending low income housing. Lower crime levels, and more tax revenue frees public expenditure for other projects 


The model brings a high quality of life with high density making it attractive for developments in the suburbs thus reducing urban sprawl. The wide green common spaces combined with large balconies and terraces will help compensate for the private yard of the suburban home.


The area around the complex benefits from the new services and restaurants and improved quality of life bringing a revitalizing effect in an area.

What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach? / Quels sont les aspects novateurs et les principales forces de cette approche?



The HCD model captures human evolutionary needs in order to accomplish high quality habitation. There are plenty of existing models for mixed use urban design that provide for some of the elements in the HCD model but none have approached the issue in a holistic way connecting present days needs with evolutionary requirements for human communities. Providing elements for optimal mental and physical health  which are essential yet often overlooked. Some of the features in the HCD model may become required standards or even laws for in the future.


The cost per apartment also includes the construction costs of commercial spaces on the lower floors. The apartment complex may own parts of the commercial  spaces. This ownership provides solid revenues to afford the advanced waste management and the NO LANDFILL policy where services will need to be paid to collect the compost and recycle other materials.  

What are the proposal’s projected costs? / Quels sont les coûts projetés de la proposition?

The proposal as a model for redevelopment low income housing projects is simply a bridge that affords opportunities (via land owned by cities) to cover the higher costs for developing the technologies for zero energy buildings and ultimately the blueprint for similar sustainable  communities that have a higher quality of life than housing both in the suburbs and in the cities at a LOWER COST.


I assumed higher costs per apartment at $250k  (versus $85k average construction cost for high end apartments) because it also included the cost of developing  at least 200,000 SF of commercial spaces (also added the sale value of the commercial space in the calculation above). As a safety buffer I wanted to go with the higher costs to cover development of vertical axis windmills on the roofs and other features such as the covering of the roofs with vegetation, water recycling, and use of rain water and many more.

What are the potential challenges or obstacles? / Quels sont les défis ou les obstacles potentiels?

The greatest challenge is communicating the advantages and the higher quality of life provided by the HCD model. Challenging the  traditional dream of a  the house with the yard and ownership of land as being the ideal for habitation. It is in some ways counter intuitive that the HCD model is superior to the typical home in the suburb in providing a higher quality of life. Therefore the benefits need to be communicated effectively  - greater square footage, ideal "playground" for all ages, recreation, community - sense of belonging, attractive and convenient for daily walks and  physical activity (lower obesity - better mental health), on site jobs, daycare, schools, shopping, services as well as security and sustainability. 

Another challenge is organizational. - needed cooperation of multiple developers as well as cities and existing communities in cases where buy-in is needed.

In case of land in low income communities the transition has to be planned with careful phasing. Occupants will need to be given options to move next to one another as they desire in the new buildings.  All contingencies and potential mistakes need to be carefully considered - continued dialog with all the stakeholders. One potential mistake could be to concentrate the low income occupants in one or two buildings.

 "island" effect - isolation from an existing poorer neighborhood. HCD needs to be a win-win for all  - allowing unhindered access to the outdoor recreation facilities to anyone.

About the authors / À propos des auteur(e)s

Emil Jacob, owner and founder of Jacob Innovations LLC, design firm in Cambridge, MA.

He had his undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Toronto and has worked extensively in IT as a Business Systems Analyst finding innovative ways to streamline and automate operations through software and optimized interfaces.

The proposal for  Transforming low income housing areas: SUSTAINABLE, INCLUSIVE, PROFITABLE  was a project in his Masters program in DESIGN FOR HUMAN HEALTH at the Boston Architectural College.


I am a strong believer in simple solutions to overwhelming challenges, most importantly climate change. I am particularly concerned about the cataclysmic scenario of runaway global warming hence I believe that all efforts are vital. Especially concerted efforts by multiple entities and large numbers of contributor

References / Références



Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (2015) The Impact of Private and Shared Open Space on Livability. Retrieved from


US National Library of Medicine  National Institutes of Health (2014) The Role of Open Space in Urban Neighborhoods for Health-Related Lifestyle. Retrieved from


US National Library of Medicine  National Institutes of Health (2006) Neighborhood Characteristics and Depression. Retrieved from 

CORE77: Architecture for Recovery: IDEO and Michael Graves Design a Home for Disabled Military Veteran Retrieved from:



American Institute of Architects: Designing for invisible injuries: An exploration of healing environments for posttraumatic stress Retrieved from:


Minnesota  Housing Partnership (MHP)  (2014). The Impact of Affordable Housing on Communities and    Households Retrieved from