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.
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:
- Smart Location and Linkage (28 possible points): This category reviews the physical conditions of the proposed neighborhood including location and the protection of natural resources. The minimum required parameters in this category include:
- Smart Location,
- Imperiled Species and Ecological Communities,
- Wetland and Water Body Conservation,
- Agricultural Land Conservation, and
- Floodplain Avoidance.
In addition, points are available for:
- Proper (preferred) Location,
- Brownfield Remediation,
- Access to Quality Transit,
- Bicycle Facilities,
- Housing and Jobs Proximity,
- Steep Slope Protection,
- Site Design for Habitat or Wetland and Water Body Conservation, and
- Long-Term Conservation Management of Habitat or Wetlands and Water Bodies
- Neighborhood Pattern and Design (41 possible points): This category focuses on access and connectivity of the neighborhood, internal access, mixed-use development and walkable streets. The category also recognizes connections with other neighborhoods, including transportation choices such as transit facilities and links to civic and recreation facilities. Required parameters include:
- Walkable Streets,
- Compact Development, and
- Connected and Open Communities.
Additional points are available for integrated development designs that include:
- Walkable Streets,
- Mixed-Use Developments,
- Varied Housing Types and Affordability,
- Reduced Parking Footprint,
- Connected and Open Community,
- Transit Facilities,
- Transportation Demand Management,
- Access to Civic and Public Spaces and Recreation Facilities,
- Visitability and Universal Design,
- Tree-Lined and Shaded Streetscapes, etc.
- Green Infrastructure and Buildings (31 possible points): This category evaluates individual buildings within the proposed neighborhood. Such factors as energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste water and stormwater management, and the elimination of heat islands are evaluated. Required qualifications include:
- Certified Green Building,
- Minimum Building Energy Performance,
- Indoor Water Use Reduction, and
- Construction Activity Pollution Prevention
Additional point opportunities are available for:
- Certified Green Buildings,
- Optimized Building Energy Performance,
- Indoor and Outdoor Water Use Reduction,
- Building Reuse,
- Historic Resource Preservation and Adaptive Reuse,
- Minimum Site Disturbance,
- Rainwater Management,
- Heat Island Reduction,
- Solar Orientation,
- Renewable Energy Production,
- District Heating and Cooling,
- Wastewater Management,
- Innovation and Design Process (6 possible points): Credit is given for the achievement of innovative design and for the use of a LEED-accredited professional during the design process.
- Regional Priority Credit (4 possible points): Credit is available for appropriate regional location.
How can we use LEED ND?
While LEED can help conserve energy in individual buildings, LEED for Neighborhood Development can revitalize existing neighborhoods, take advantage of existing infrastructure and promote community interaction. LEED ND status is commonly promoted to tenants or buyers as a type of status symbol. Some municipalities offer density bonuses for buildings that are designed with the goals of achieving LEED ND certification.