LEED Weighs in on Smart Growth, with a new Neighborhood Development Scorecard

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”— Dr. Albert Bartlett

Moving from “green building” to “green development”, LEED has weighed in on smart growth with its latest product “LEED for Neighborhood Development”.  Unlike previous products that made their environmental impact one building at a time, the Neighborhood Development product is greater in scope and is likely to have a much broader impact.

“LEED for Neighborhood Development places emphasis on the site selection, design, and construction elements that bring buildings together into a neighborhood, and relate the neighborhood to its landscape and larger regional context. The work of the committee is guided by sources such as the Smart Growth Network’s ten principles of smart growth, the charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and other LEED rating systems. LEED for Neighborhood Development creates a label, as well as guidelines for design and decision‐making, to serve as an incentive for better location, design, and construction of new residential, commercial, and mixed‐use developments.”

Although voluntary, LEED’s latest product will provide a model code for residential development that can be adopted by municipalities around the country and new developments that meets the LEED criteria will no doubt become the future neighborhood’s we will want to live in.  A LEED certified Neighborhood Development will not contribute to sprawl, it will reduce automobile dependence, provide for a walkable street-scape environment, have a smaller more compact overall footprint, honor diversity, and its buildings will be green.

In the introduction to its new product, LEED attempts to define smart growth relative to neighborhood development as follows:

“In simplistic terms, a neighborhood is an area of dwellings and/or work places and their immediate environment that residents and/or employees identify with in terms of social and economic attitudes, lifestyles, and institutions. The charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism defines a neighborhood as “compact, pedestrian‐friendly, and mixed‐use.”   Victor Dover and Jason King define a neighborhood in Doug Farr’s Sustainable Urbanism as “the basic increment of town planning” where a single neighborhood stands alone as a village and two or more neighborhoods “grouped together sharing a specialized hub or main street is a town.”  Dover and King continue to attribute the vitality of neighborhoods as the key providers of the “dynamism and diversity” in cities.  [They] do not include the “disconnected, single‐use developments that characterize sprawl, such as stand‐alone apartment complexes, subdivision tracts, office parks, or shopping centers” in their definition of a neighborhood. Instead they believe that traditional neighborhoods meet all those same needs—for housing, workplaces, shopping, civic functions, and more—but in formats that are compact, complete, and connected, and ultimately more sustainable and satisfying.”

As with most definitions of “smart growth” or “new urbanism” the theme is a higher quality of life, diversity, and a movement away from a fossil fuel dependent suburban sprawl.  However, smart growth is still growth. It may be orders of magnitude more sustainable than sprawl, but in a fundamental way, it is still business as usual.  Combining the medicine of smart with the sugar of growth may help to convince the developers and their political allies to accept the inevitable end of sprawl, but it does not solve Dr. Bartlett’s problem of exponential function.

The problem is that with even modest rates of growth, the trendline eventually becomes grotesquely exponential, rendering smart growth an oxymoron.  In effect, we would only be trading the malignant cancer of sprawl for the more benign cancer of smart growth.  Neither would be sustainable.

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One response to “LEED Weighs in on Smart Growth, with a new Neighborhood Development Scorecard

  1. Thank you for blogging about LEED-ND. I would like to encourage you and your readers to review the draft rating system and submit comments during our public comment period which ends on Jan. 5th. Here is a link – http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEEDDrafts/RatingSystemVersions.aspx?CMSPageID=1458

    Finally, I would like to point out that LEED-ND has not been designed as a model code and we do not encourage jurisdictions to use ND this way. Since land use policies are so localized, we see LEED-ND as a tool that jurisdictions can use to evaluate the land within their bounds that is eligible for ND, review their codes and ordinances to see whether ND projects can be carried out easily, and finally draw from ND to create green design guidelines or a green overlay districts (Cleveland is working on this for their 4 ND pilot projects). At USGBC, we also hope that jurisdictions will consider financial or structural incentives for projects exploring ND.

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