Sunday, June 10, 2007

Certified Green Neighborhoods

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has become the standard certification system for green architecture in the United States - and the organisation that oversees LEED ratings, the US Green Building Council, is growing by leaps and bounds as architects and developers catch on to the fact that LEED-certified buildings fetch higher rents and incur lower operating costs.

As LEED becomes more popular, though, it is also attracting more criticism: its objective, point-based rating systems largely ignore differences in regional environments and assign equal point values to building technologies that vary widely in their costs and beneficial impacts. Also, LEED ratings typically assign little value to a building's site context: many LEED-certified buildings (including Maine's first Platinum-level LEED home in Freeport, at right) have been built in automobile-dependent rural hinterlands, creating instances of "green" suburban sprawl.

To address the latter problem and to introduce some economies of scale to developers who are interested in the LEED process, the USGBC has introduced a "LEED for Neighborhood Design" pilot program. The LEED-ND rating system was developed in concert with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Aside from certain requirements - smart location, street and sidewalk connectivity, avoiding sensitive habitats - a LEED certified neighborhood will also have to attain a certain number of points by reducing automobile dependence, locating near existing housing and jobs, managing stormwater throughout the neighborhood, or offering diverse housing types.

The LEED-ND program is only in its pilot phase for now, while a few test cases go through the certification process to evaluate its impact and areas for improvement. Incidentally, we recently learned that the Olympia Companies' proposal for the Maine State Pier development won a slot in the LEED-ND pilot program.

Once the pilot program gives way to an official framework to certify green neighborhoods, the certification process will be open to existing neighborhoods as well as new developments. Looking over the criteria, it seems to me that most of Portland could qualify for LEED-ND certification, and the peninsula's neighborhoods could easily rank a LEED gold rating.

I wouldn't recommend actually persuing certification - we don't really need another distinction to raise property values around town - but the LEED-ND framework does provide a tidy list of criteria by which we can judge our city's livability and environmental impact.

More about the LEED for Neighborhood Development program:
Congress for the New Urbanism
US Green Building Council

1 comment:

jbm said...

Are you so disgruntled with the state of American greenness that you have expatriated to Franse/Grate Britain?

I do, however, agree that Portland is so distiinct as to require a diistinct spelling of "distinctiion"