Designing Smart Neighborhoods

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally-recognized green building certification and rating system. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in the late 1990s, and provides building owners and operators with objective measurements for identifying and helping implement practical and measurable green building design, construction, operation and maintenance programs. The USGBC administers LEED certification for all commercial, residential and institutional projects registered under the LEED Rating System.

Neighborhood-based Design

The USGBC recognized that while the design of individual buildings using LEEDS guidelines is important, a building's location is equally important. Good neighborhood-based designs encourage behaviors that have a significant effect on the environmental performance of a given place.

Good neighborhood-based designs that result from implementing LEED's parameters can correct some of the adverse effects of 75 years of automobile-based urban design, which resulted in the use of individual cars for the majority of daily activities. Automobile-oriented neighborhoods tend to be expensive to build and maintain, and are difficult or dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Urban sprawl fragments natural habitats, destroys farmland, and increases the burden on municipal infrastructure.

In contrast, neighborhood designs that place homes and employment opportunities closer to each other and include mixed-use developments can reduce automobile trips and associated pollution, as well as generally improve public health. Mixed-use developments and "complete" streets encourage walking, bicycling, and the use of public transportation for daily errands and commuting. Those who do not have access to a private automobile for reasons of age, health, cost or preference, could take full advantage of the opportunities offered in such communities.

Measuring Good Design

The USGBC joined the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop the LEED Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) rating system for neighborhood planning and development based on the combined principles of smart growth, New Urbanism, and green infrastructure and building design. Unlike the other LEED rating systems, which focus primarily on green building practices and offers limited credits for site selection and design, LEED ND places its emphasis on elements such as site selection, design, and construction practices that help sustain neighborhoods by bringing buildings and infrastructure together and relate new construction to the surrounding landscape and its local and regional context.

The LEED ND rating system has five primary scoring categories: Smart Location and Linkage, Neighborhood Pattern and Design, Green Infrastructure and Buildings, Innovation and Design Process, and Regional Priority Credits.

There are four levels of LEED certification - the number of points a project earns determines the LEED level certification that the project will receive. Typical certification thresholds are: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80 points and above) categories. Points are scored in the following areas: