Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green Thinking Needs To More About Neighborhoods Than Buildings

Up until very recently, the whole LEED certified green building thing looked and smelled like a bit of a racket to me.

The biggest flaw in LEED is measuring buildings without looking at the context they fit into which is why many of them sit in parking lots with no transit access--or in areas exclusively zoned for single uses-where you will have to get in a car to get a cup of coffee.

This year standards have come out to better evaluate neighborhoods.

First launched as a pilot program in 2009, LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), in cooperation with the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to reward environmentally conscience neighborhood design. The new standards sought to encourage the creation of places that protect fragile land, lower energy use and emission creation, and limit waste. The three umbrella standards which the USGBC ranks new projects;

1) Smart Location and Linkage,

2) Neighborhood Pattern and Design,

3) Green Infrastructure and Buildings;

all seek to create a benchmark for area development. The Smart Location and Linkage standard focuses on limiting newly developed land, rejuvenating brownfields; while conserving bodies of water, erosion susceptible land, animal habitats, and agriculturally rich soil. It encourages the creation of neighborhoods that promote dense and well connected areas that support pedestrian and bike traffic. Neighborhood Pattern and Design focuses on the infrastructure choices made within the community that reduce the carbon footprint created by residents in their day to day lives. And Green Infrastructure and Buildings, much like LEED’s original green building code, uses passive and active designs and tools to reduce water waste, improve energy efficiency, and lessen infrastructure’s environmental impact.

Copied with links kept.

Location. The centers of regions and older suburbs perform better than the fringe, even if other factors are held constant.

Connected streets. A well-connected street network (featuring smaller blocks and lots of intersections) shortens travel distances and makes walking more feasible and pleasant. It is the single most important determinant of how much walking will take place in a neighborhood and the second most important determinant (after location) of how much driving will take place.

Places to go. A mix of conveniences such as shops, schools, and places to eat and socialize encourages walking, promotes fitness and health, and reduces emissions from driving.

Ways to get around. The more transportation choices, the better. If you’re lucky enough to be within walking distance of rail transit, for example, the number of automobile trips during rush hours can be up to 50 percent lower than what would otherwise be expected under standard engineering forecasts.

Density. As I have said before, it doesn’t necessarily have to be high density to reduce driving and watershed-damaging pavement per household. We see substantial improvements in performance as we move from large-lot sprawl even to ten homes per acre; beyond 40 to 50 homes per acre, we continue to see improvements, but at reduced increments. Moderate density helps a lot.

Green stormwater infrastructure. While runoff per household goes down in denser neighborhoods, runoff per acre can go up unless mitigated. Green infrastructure, when in the form of publically accessible green spaces, can also bring an array of additional benefits to a neighborhood.

In my opinion-real green building certification should give at least equal weight to the buildings context as to the building itself -which is why almost all the buildings, in a walkable, transit oriented place like Manhattan are more than half way to an A.

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