Expert Insights: Elise Cuneo Talks Office Interior Design in 2024

office solutions design sketch

office solutions design sketch

 

Elise Cuneo, Interior Design Leader and Strategist for Unispace

For the latest interview in our Expert Insights Series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Elise Cuneo, an interior design leader and strategist for Unispace, a global leader in workplace strategy, design, project management and construction.

Cuneo is based in New York via Sydney, Australia. Her collaborative, concept-driven process delivers spaces where organizations can tell their brand story through design, while also supporting business and real estate objectives. She acts as a co-creator by working with clients globally to develop the design language for their new workplace and translating this into physical space. Read on for more insights on office interior design.

Q: What is your personal approach to office interior design?

Listen first. I prioritize deeply understanding who my clients are and bringing their values, brand identity, and organizational culture to life when co-creating their new workplace environment. It’s always a collaboration.

By delving into the complexities of their current and future business goals; how they work now; and how they want to work in the future, I always aim to create spaces that authentically reflect their brand identity, while fostering an environment that serves as a tangible expression of their ethos. The goal is to create a strong sense of connection and belonging for both employees and visitors alike.

As an Australian living in New York for the past eight years, I have designed and delivered projects globally in APAC, North America and the UK. This has enabled me to view projects through a global lens, looking to the wider world for inspiration whilst considering local context and nuance.

Q: Can you tell us how office interior design has evolved in the last five years?

Over the past five years, the most significant shifts have been driven by evolving societal, technological, and organizational dynamics and, of course, the pandemic. Employees now expect a lot more from their workplace.

One prominent trend is the emphasis on flexible and adaptable spaces to accommodate diverse work styles and collaboration needs. Whilst more common in other global regions, open floor plans have become increasingly common in North America, fostering a greater level of transparency and encouraging collaboration and innovation.

Additionally, there’s a growing focus on employee wellbeing and productivity, leading to the integration of natural elements, ergonomic furniture and wellness amenities into workplace environments.

Following the pandemic and advancements in technology, we have seen the rise of remote and hybrid work through digital connectivity. This prompts us as designers to incorporate seamless technology infrastructure and agile workspaces to support these new ways of working, allowing for a greater parity of experience — both in and out of the office.

Sustainability has also gained prominence with an increased awareness of and emphasis on eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient systems and green design principles.

Overall, commercial workplace design has evolved to prioritize flexibility, wellbeing, technology integration, sustainability, and, importantly, connection to place and brand to meet the changing needs and demands of employees.

Q: What are some of the challenges that come with the new hybrid model?

I’m seeing challenges around organizations trying to find the right balance of spaces for people to work, while ensuring that they are inclusive. Many people associate coming into the office with collaboration, but if an organization is mandating employees to return to the workplace four days a week, it must consider that employees will need more than collaboration areas. They’ll also need focus space, team space, etc.

Coming into the office also looks different for everyone depending on their role, personal needs and lifestyle. The workplace should be designed to allow everyone to do their best work while fostering inclusivity and equity. It must also consider the needs of neurodiverse employees and be wellness-focused.

Another challenge organizations are facing is how to create ‘sticky’ environments that people want to come into and stay in. What we provided prior to the pandemic is no longer enough, and people are now expecting their workplace to be a destination.

It’s all about getting the balance right. Organizations should be creating a reason for people to come into the workplace; offering more than desks and meeting rooms; and focusing on the experience people have when they are in the office.

Q: Which office interior design trends do you think will be most successful this year?

There will be a huge focus on DEI and environmental, social and governance (ESG) pillars.

DEI initiatives are shaping how we design workplace environments to be more equitable and foster a sense of belonging through accommodating a diverse set of needs through inclusive design practices that reflect the diversity of employees. For example, take gender-neutral bathrooms — these shouldn’t be seen as an amenity. They should be seen as the standard. We will also see an increase in supporting neurodiverse employees through spaces where people can retreat and focus without distractions. Aesthetically and spatially, we will see more variety in choice and diverse space programs that respond to people’s unique needs.

Simultaneously, there’s a growing emphasis on ESG factors with a focus on the use of sustainable materials, energy-efficient systems and environmentally conscious practices.

We need to make a move toward creating workplaces that are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing, but are also socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.

Q: What do you think about “resimmercial” furnishings?

This term doesn’t resonate with me, but we’re hearing it a lot. My approach is to bridge the gap between residential and commercial and focus on choice and variety. For example, I like to mix classical residential pieces from brands such as Fritz Hansen that touch on timelessness and durability with commercial pieces, as opposed to a purely ‘resimmercial’ landscape. Using natural and more tactile materiality — such as timber, natural fibers, etc. — provides a comfortable and timeless feel and connects us to home.

Approach to lighting is also very important to me. A layered or dappled approach and user adaptability not only enhances the visual appeal, but also contributes to a sensory-rich environment that suits a wider variety of people. This can further enrich the ambiance and functionality of a space.

My design philosophy prioritizes longevity and sensory experience, diverging from the trendy connotations often associated with the term ‘resimmercial.

Q: Are there any trends you expect to decline in the next few years? Why?

I expect to continue to see a decline in large office sizes and seas of workstations. This is because we’re seeing an increase in prioritizing experience and creating environments where employees want to come into, stay in, can get their work done and feel a sense of belonging.

Q: What challenges are employers attempting to solve through their workplace design?

Organizations want to create a destination and experience for their people. Ensuring a connection to brand and mission is very important. It’s not just about logos and brand colors. It’s about reflecting ethos through the built environment.

Organizations are also concerned with talent attraction and retention, but the built environment is only part of the solve. How organizations use the space and program it to boost and celebrate culture, connection and belonging is critical.

It’s also essential to create the right mix of space types to support a more transient and hybrid workforce. Employees need both individual and collaborative settings. They also require the tools needed to do their jobs effectively and seamless technology.

 

Interested in being interviewed for our Expert Insights series? Feel free to reach out to us at contributors@commercialcafe.com or check out other articles from our series here.

 

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H&M Takes Last Anchor Space at Brickell City Centre

miami office space

miami office space

Swire Properties USA — the U.S. real estate arm of multinational corporation Swire Properties — recently announced that it had secured a tenant for the last remaining anchor space in The Shops at Brickell City Centre (BCC). The company’s regional mall property will be home to global fashion leader H&M, which will occupy two levels and more than 25,000 square feet of Miami retail space.

“Among the world’s leading retailers, H&M is an ideal and exciting addition to the dynamic Brickell City Centre shopping experience,” said David Martin, senior vice president at Swire Properties. “We are pleased to be the first to welcome H&M to Brickell and offer our loyal visitors in greater downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods yet another national shopping brand to complement BCC’s tenants that cater to the area’s younger consumer base and tastes. H&M complements our refreshed retail mix and further positions BCC as the foremost retail destination for residents and visitors of Brickell and beyond.”

Located on level 2 of North Block, the storefront will feature upgraded finishes such as special tile detailing, open-air ceilings, a grand staircase, guest lounge areas, and a large-scale screen featuring the retailer’s latest campaigns. H&M Brickell will carry women’s, men’s, and kids’ collections, as well as offer fashion pieces, affordable wardrobe essentials, and complete-the-look accessories.

street level view of the Brickell sign facade of The Shops at Brickell City Center on South Miami Avenue

The Shops at Brickell City Center on South Miami Avenue. Property image courtesy of CommercialEdge.

Marking the beginning of a series of new leases at the property, this deal is a significant step toward achieving 100% occupancy for the first time since BCC opened in 2016. Responding to changes in the city demographics — as well as an increasing sentiment that there’s a lack of shared space for leisure and community engagement — Brickell City Centre has curated a central, walkable gathering place for locals to access and enjoy tailored retail, dining, and entertainment experiences. Meeting the needs of the community with a retail selection that represents and caters to them, BCC has enjoyed success when many brick-and-mortar shopping destinations across the country are facing challenges.

Since 2020, The Shops at BCC has introduced 24 new brands. Additionally, in 2023, the property saw record visitors during the end-of-year holiday season, a 21.4% surge in year-round foot traffic, and a 13% year-over-year boost in retail sales compared to the previous year.

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China Merchants Bank Extends Manhattan Office Lease at 535 Madison

coworking space manhattan

coworking space manhattan

Chicago-based real estate firm Cresa recently announced that company principal Michael Goldman had successfully negotiated a lease renewal for the New York branch of China Merchants Bank to remain at its current Midtown East location. With the 15-year lease extension, the bank will occupy more than 43,000 square feet of Manhattan office space across three full floors (the 17th, 18th, and 23rd).

Cresa Vice President, Barry Spagna, and Director of Consulting, Erik Sznip, worked with Goldman on behalf of the tenant. A CBRE leasing team of Vice Chairman, Brian Gell, and Executive Vice President, Laurence Briody, represented Park Tower Group, which developed, owns, and manages 535 Madison.

“For nearly a year, our team met with the bank’s executive management in New York to determine the best courses of action before their lease expired,” Goldman said. “After thorough building tours of triple class A space in the Midtown Plaza district, we collectively determined the best option was to extend their lease at 535 Madison Avenue. CMB really appreciated all the building has to offer, including superior tenant services, the efficiency of column-free floor plates, and a great location.”

Rising 37 stories above the intersection of Madison Avenue and East 54th Street, 535 Madison offers LEED Gold-certified office space and is known for its beautiful lobby art collection; expansive outdoor plaza; exceptional tenant services and amenities; and high-quality tenant roster.

Since it originally joined the property with a 14,000-square-foot lease in 2008, the China Merchants Bank New York Branch has continually expanded its footprint and, today, is the building’s largest tenant.

Street level view of the Manhattan office space property at 535 Madison Avenue.

China Merchants Bank New York Branch renews lease to occupy 43,000 square feet of office space for rent in Manhattan across three full floors at 535 Madison. Property image courtesy of CommercialEdge.

“We are grateful to Park Tower Group and its leasing team for collaborating with us on a tenant installation allowance and future interior and infrastructure upgrades in order to maintain this excellent tenant and achieve a positive outcome for all parties,” added Cresa Managing Principal, Peter Sabesan.

“We could not be more pleased that China Merchants Bank has opted to renew its lease at 535 Madison Avenue for another 15 years,” said Marian Klein, president of Park Tower Group. “This renewal is a testament to the deep and longstanding relationships we foster with our tenants; the superior quality of this building; and the best-in-class services we pride ourselves on.”

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Empire State Realty Trust Signs Full-Floor Tenant at 250 W. 57th St.

The Empire State Realty Trust announced that it had added a new tenant to the roster at 250 W. 57th St. by signing a full-floor lease with Hanover Street Capital, a commercial real estate platform offering solutions for Deutsche Bank’s commercial real estate operations. Hanover is set to occupy a total of 12,622 square feet of class A office space in Manhattan.

Located on Billionaire’s Row in the Times Square-Hell’s Kitchen office submarket, 250 W. 57th St. was initially built in 1921 and was once known as the Fisk Tire Building. After extensive renovations in 2017 — which also added a brand new, Gensler-designed lobby — it now features full-floor buildouts that include ESRT’s indoor environmental and sustainability package, thereby improving air quality, as well as the eco-friendliness of the Trust’s office properties. Nearby landmarks to the office building include Central Park, the Time Warner Center, and Carnegie Hall, as well as multiple dining options and the Columbus Circle subway station.

Hanover Street Capital now joins a prestigious tenant roster, including Universal Music Group and Mount Sinai’s corporate offices, both of which hold a full-floor lease. Tenants of the property also have access to three fully stocked cabanas dubbed Refresh 57.

250 W. 57th St., the ESRT-owned office building and the site of the trust's newest lease

250 West 57th Street, Manhattan, New York, NY 10019. Property image courtesy of CommercialEdge.

“We were drawn to 250 W. 57th St. for its unbeatable location and our high-end, pre-built space that is move-in ready,” said Sunil Madan, head and COO at Hanover Street Capital. “We are thrilled to partner with Empire State Realty Trust and look forward to joining the building’s community.”

“ESRT is pleased to welcome Hanover Street Capital to our tenant roster at 250 W. 57th St.,” said Thomas P. Durels, executive vice president, real estate at Empire State Realty Trust. “Hanover will benefit from the building’s convenient location and ESRT’s commitment to sustainability and indoor environmental quality throughout its portfolio.”

At the end of January, the Empire State Realty Trust landed another full-floor tenant in the Empire State Building after signing the Greater New York Mutual Insurance Company for a lease totaling 52,116 square feet of New York office space in one of the city’s most identifiable landmarks.

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Top 30 Mid-Sized U.S. Cities for Green Commuting: Honolulu, Madison & Pittsburgh Lead the Way

Green Commuting

Green Commuting

Key Takeaways:

  • Honolulu topped the list due to high rankings in green commuting metrics, like the rates of carpooling, cycling and walking.
  • Madison, Wis., secured the #2 spot with a strong emphasis on cycling, supported by dedicated bike infrastructure and sustainability initiatives.
  • Pittsburgh claimed #3 due to a focus on walkability, showcasing its transformation from an industrial hub to a sustainable city.
  • Jersey City, N.J., landed at #4, benefiting from its proximity to New York City, as well as its robust public transit infrastructure and commitment to reducing car dependency.

As many workers return to their daily commutes, the quest for sustainable transportation options looms large. But, while bigger cities often take center stage for their eco-friendly commuting initiatives, mid-sized cities are quietly revolutionizing the transportation landscape. In fact, these smaller, yet more nimble urban centers are demonstrating that green commuting is not just an abstract aspiration, but also an achievable reality — even without the vast resources of their larger counterparts.

Recognizing the influence of city size on commuting patterns, we opted to conduct a focused analysis, and narrowed our scope to those with populations ranging from 220,000 to 500,000 residents. We then evaluated key indicators like public transportation ridership, pedestrian and bicycle commuting rates, carpooling champions, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and green amenities’ abundance, to identify the frontrunners in sustainable commuting.

Here’s the top 30 cities that emerged from our analysis. For a more in-depth examination of the top 10, continue reading.

Honolulu – Total Points: 57.3

Honolulu earned the title of best city for green commuting by topping the overall ranking with a score of 57 points. Specifically, the Hawaii capital outshined the rest of the competition by securing top-five placements for carpooling — where it garnered the highest score — along with walking and biking.

Moreover, with a top-10 finish in public transit use, it’s noteworthy that mid-sized cities such as Honolulu are expanding their infrastructure — often with help from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. For example, Honolulu recently opened the first phase of its skyline passenger rail project that’s slated to transport approximately 84,000 passengers daily — nearly one-quarter of the city’s population of 345,000. Furthermore, the city secured a $20 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to purchase new electric buses, pushing Honolulu closer to its goal of an all-electric bus fleet by 2040.

2. Madison, Wis. – Total Points: 51.9

Given its reputation as a biking haven, it’s no wonder that Madison topped the list of cities with the highest percentage of cyclist commuters. While 2.6% may seem like a modest number, it’s a significant leap from the national average of just 0.5%. And, thanks to an extensive network of bike lanes and cyclist-friendly policies, the city has transformed into a cyclist’s paradise.

Similarly, Madison ranked third for walking commuters, indicating a strong local preference for car-free living and a welcoming environment for alternative transportation options overall. This dedication to sustainability was further reflected in the city’s second-highest ranking in terms of parks per capita, which showcases the interest of the city in its environment well-being, as well as promotes active, healthy habits for its residents.

3. Pittsburgh – Total Points: 48.5

Once known for its industrial heritage, Pittsburgh is adopting a greener future and embracing eco-conscious commuting practices. This transformation was evident in the city’s performances, including the highest percentage of walkers among workers in the study with an impressive 11%. Plus, this feat was further complemented by Pittsburgh’s robust public transportation system, which ranked fifth among the top 30 cities in ridership. Likewise, the city’s diverse and sustainable commuting options were also enriched by its share of commuting cyclists.

In support of this growing trend away from car dependency, Pittsburgh recently secured a $150 million construction grant from the FTA for the bus rapid transit line. This initiative aims to provide fast and convenient transit along the congested corridor connecting downtown Pittsburgh to Oakland. However, the city isn’t short on green spaces, either, as evidenced by its fourth-place ranking for parks per capita.

4. Jersey City, N.Y. – Total Points: 47.4

Situated alongside New York City and seamlessly integrated into the region’s expansive transportation network, Jersey City presents its workforce with a diverse array of transit commuting choices. Therefore, it was no surprise that with more than 35% of commuters opting for public transportation, the city easily surpassed all others in terms of commuter transit ridership.

Notably, Jersey City has taken a multifaceted approach to promoting green commuting by investing in the creation of car-free plazas — like the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza to encourage walking — and expanding bike lanes to enhance cycling options. Furthermore, Jersey City’s carpooling rate stood at 14% (the third-highest among the top 30 cities), which demonstrates a collective effort to reduce traffic congestion in this densely populated urban landscape.

5. Oakland, Calif. – Total Points: 45.8

On the West Coast, Oakland stood out in carpooling, car-free commuting and cycling. In particular, the city’s impressive 15% carpooling rate, which tied for second in the study, was bolstered by the Bay Area’s comprehensive high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane network.

At the same time, Oakland’s commitment to car-free commuting was also evident in its fourth-place ranking for transit ridership: Here, Mass Transit Oakland and the Bay Area Rapid Transit System provide seamless connections for commuters across the Bay Area, making Oakland one of only four cities in the study to attract more than 10% of commuters to public transportation.

Otherwise, for those seeking an even greener commute option, Oakland’s cycling scene offers a viable alternative. Accordingly, the city ranked fourth in cycling commuters, making it an ideal location for those who enjoy outdoor activities and embrace the opportunity to pedal to work.

6. Arlington, Va. – Total Points: 42.5

Ranking sixth among the top 30 cities, Arlington achieved a third-place finish in public transit ridership with more than 12% of workers opting for public transportation. Similar to Jersey City, commuters here benefit from their integration into one of the nation’s largest transit hubs — Washington, D.C.’s Metro system. The city boasts 11 metro stations offering convenient connections to the Orange, Silver, Blue and Yellow lines. Meanwhile, for those residing beyond the reach of the subway, an extensive bus network provides a reliable alternative, ensuring access to various parts of the city.

To further enhance the public transit experience, Arlington has also implemented strategic initiatives designed to encourage public transportation usage. One such initiative is the provision of complimentary transfers for rail riders transitioning from Metro to bus within a two-hour window. Conversely, compared to all of the other cities in the top 10, Arlington had a lower share of commuters who chose walking or biking as methods of traveling to work.

7. Atlanta – Total Points: 42.2

Atlanta has developed into a leading innovator in sustainable transportation, including making significant strides in embracing electric vehicle technology. More precisely, the city boasted the second-highest number of EV charging stations per capita, which creates an attractive environment for both existing EV owners and those considering making the switch to eco-friendly transportation.

Beyond its robust EV infrastructure, Atlanta is also actively pursuing strategies to enhance mobility and safety for all commuters. Despite a slight lag in walk and bike commute percentages compared to other top-ranked cities, Atlanta’s widespread tree canopy cover and easy access to parks make for an invigorating outdoor commuting experience for those who opt for non-motorized options — a trend that’s prevalent among many Southern cities in the top 30. The city is also exploring ways to improve public transportation ridership and overall transportation infrastructure.

8. Minneapolis – Total Points: 42.1

With its extensive network of bike lanes, Minneapolis has transformed into a cycling paradise, sharing the runner-up spot for cycling commuters with Honolulu. In this case, the city’s proactive approach to promoting cycling has included lowering speed limits and redesigning streets to prioritize bicyclists. And, although the recent closure of Nice Ride — the city’s bike-sharing program — dealt a blow to the cycling movement, the future remains bright. That’s because Minneapolis currently boasts 21 miles of protected bike lanes on city streets and has set a goal to expand this by 141 miles by 2030.

Clearly, Minneapolis does well in public transportation as it ranked among the top 10 cities for ridership with 6.7% of commuters choosing this mode. That said, the twin city also boasted a high percentage of walkers, thereby showcasing its dedication to pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and active lifestyles.

9. Buffalo, N.Y. – Total Points: 40.5

Emerging as an all-rounder in terms of sustainable commuting, Buffalo excelled across public transit ridership, park accessibility, air quality and carbon emissions. Namely, with 9.3% of commuters utilizing public transportation to get to work, Buffalo stood alongside Pittsburgh as a top-six city in that category. However, it was Buffalo’s air quality that elevated its overall ranking as the city had the fifth-best air in the ranking alongside Spokane, Wash. Additionally, Buffalo’s estimated low carbon emissions (ranking third in our analysis) further underscored the city’s commitment to green commuting practices.

While Buffalo’s public transportation ridership is commendable, there’s nevertheless a clear opportunity to expand its reach and make it an even more attractive option for commuters. Recognizing this need, the Niagara Frontier Transport Authority is actively engaging the public through a series of listening sessions to gather feedback and gather support for its proposed metro transit expansion project. This initiative aims to eventually create a better-connected transportation network that reaches workers across the entire region.

10. Irvine, Calif. – Total Points: 39.6

Rounding out the top 10 best mid-sized cities for green commuting, Irvine stood out as a leading advocate for the electric vehicle revolution. With more than 20 EV charging stations per 10,000 residents, Irvine not only had easily the highest ratio of EV ports, but also exemplified California’s nationwide leadership in paving the way for an electric future. Likewise, at the city level, Irvine’s vast network of EV charging stations provides peace of mind to EV owners — particularly those residing in apartment complexes or relying on street parking — and ensures easy access to recharging facilities.

At the same time, Irvine also displayed an impressive share of commuting cyclists to claim fifth place among the top 30 cities. This feat was complemented by the city’s extensive network of more than 285 miles of on-street bikeways, as well as the city’s abundance of green spaces. Yet another plus here is the favorable southern California climate which incentives commuters to opt for zero-emission transportation modes such as cycling that enjoy the outdoors.

Methodology

To identify the top mid-sized cities for green commuting, we analyzed a comprehensive set of metrics and used a weighted scoring system to determine the final rankings. Our study focused on cities with populations between 220,000 and 500,000, based on U.S. Census data as of December 31, 2022. Additionally, only cities with complete data for all indicators were included in the analysis.

The term “commuters” refers to workers aged 16 and older who do not work from home. For each metric, points were awarded proportionally to the city’s performance, except for air quality, where lower values were considered better.

Commuting Methods:

  • Percentage of workers commuting by public transportation (up to 15 points) — the share of a city’s workforce using public transportation as a means of transportation to work (excluding taxicab). Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Percentage of workers commuting by walking (up to 10 points) — the share of a city’s workforce walking as a means of transportation to work. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Percentage of workers commuting by bicycle (up to 10 points) — the share of a city’s workforce using cycling as a means of transportation to work. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Percentage of drivers carpooling to work (up to 10 points) — the share of a city’s drivers who carpool as a means of transportation to work. Minimum two-person carpool. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Green Amenities:

  • Number of EV charging stations per 10,000 residents (up to 10 points) — Data source: U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Number of parks per 10,000 residents (up to 5 points) — Data Source: Trust for Public Land.
  • Percentage of a city’s land area occupied by parks (up to 5 points) — Data Source: Trust for Public Land.
  • Percentage of a city’s land area occupied by tree canopy cover (up to 10 points) — Data Source: Tree Equity Score.

Air/Environment:

  • Air quality (up to 15 points) — Data Source: Air Quality Index (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
  • Carbon emissions by city (up to 10 points) — a city’s estimated carbon emissions. In order to estimate each city’s total CO2 emissions, we first calculated the average CO2 emissions per person across the entire state. Then, we multiplied the average emission rate by the population of each city to determine its corresponding CO2 Data source: U.S. Department of Energy.

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