Chad Riley

Photo credit - Ryan Pender

The United Nations predicts that 80% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Architecture 2030 states that 75% of the existing building stock will be still in operation in 2035. The existing building stock is primarily comprised of small to medium-sized buildings that use up to 44% of the energy in the US. Chad Riley, '00, sought a way to address the existing building stock at a block-wide level while also addressing the environmental need for less carbon and more renewable energy sources. While at Rocky Mountain Institute, he helped conceive Living City Block, a non-profit organization that seeks to create regenerative urban communities.

Living City Block aims to transform an existing city block in Lower Downtown Denver into a model of 21st Century energy and resource efficiency. Living City Block will create a replicable, exportable, scalable and economically viable framework for the resource efficient regeneration of existing cities, one block at a time. Riley and his colleagues work with communities to implement the framework they developed to help create regenerative and resilient cities that are culturally thriving, energy and resource super-efficient, and economically sustainable. LCB is also in the initial phases of launching Living City Blocks in Washington, DC and Brooklyn, New York.

“Living City Block is unique in that it is addressing deep energy retrofits in the small to medium sized commercial buildings – currently a severely underserved market due to the difficulty of getting projects ‘to pencil’”. Living City Block serves as an aggregator for buildings and building owners to make the project financially feasible. “Our project in LoDo is aggregating 16 different buildings, approximately 600,000 square feet, and 40 different building owners to achieve 50% blockwide energy reduction in two years, 75% blockwide energy reduction in four years and aspects of regenerative urbanism (with at least two net-zero buildings) in six to eight years … it’s just a little complicated” Riley jokes.

Riley was drawn to Warren Wilson for its Triad approach to education, substantial sustainability focus, small student body size and the notable absence of “greek life”. Initially, he worked on the locksmith and security crews then transferred to the landscaping crew. Initially an English Major, Chad changed his major after seeing a speaker on campus, Amory Lovins from Rocky Mountain Institute, during his sophomore year. Riley then worked on developing his new major – Sustainable Community Development. "What I learned from the process of creating my own major and the work ethic instilled in me from the work program have proved to be essential in my entrepreneurial pursuits. I use a lot of the analytical skills and independent thinking that I developed at WWC on a day to day basis."

Once a project is underway, Chad and Living City Block serve as the clearinghouse between the real estate industry, the energy industry and the research and data they are compiling. "There is so much to discover with this cutting edge project." Visit to learn more.