There’s some news today that won’t be noticed by major media but could potentially have a far greater impact on the environmental footprint of our country and communities than most environmental stories you’ll find in the Times or on CNN- today the LEED for Neighborhood Development standard opens for business.
There’s no way to sugar coat the issues- our country has an appalling record on land use policy. From coast to coast we have fostered a development pattern entirely beholden to single occupancy automobile use that eliminates the distinction between town and country and leaves huge swaths of our population without any access to public transportation. The few that are lucky enough to live near a bus or train line find they have access to a few blocks of central business district and little else. (If you live outside Philly, for example, you can catch a bus or train into central Philly but there is no way to travel to an adjacent suburb or town.) And don’t even ask about walking or biking- which feel like criminal activities in most communities. It’s a system that is both inefficient and ineffective. If our society is to have any measurable impact on our environmental footprint we need to make huge changes to our patterns of development and LEED-ND is the best tool we currently have to move in the direction of smart growth and sustainable communities.
Like the LEED standards for buildings, there will be lots to argue about with LEED-ND. Should it do more to restrict greenfield development? What are the hurdles to implementation in urban settings? How will it mesh with municipal policies like Portland’s urban growth boundary? I’m looking forward to those conversations- hopefully some of them will happen in this space- but first we need more people to understand that where we locate our buildings is as important as the performance of the buildings themselves and having a public standard like LEED-ND available will grease the grooves of the public conversation. I’ve said before that one of LEED’s greatest contributions has been cultural rather than technical- it provides a conversational benchmark for people to talk about green building issues. I expect a similar transformation of the public conversation around development issues in the years ahead.
Kaid Benfield, who was intimately involved in the development of the standard, has a nice post over at the NRDC Switchboard outlining today’s milestone. You can find the Rating System, Checklists and the LEED Online portal to register your projects at the USGBC website.