LEED Takes Green Building to the Neighborhood

LEED, the building standard that has lightened the footprint of tens of thousands of structures, announced a new standard yesterday that amplifies the idea to neighborhood scale.

The standard has been in the works for years and more than 200 test sites are already built or underway, including the Olympic village that opened in Vancouver this winter. Now any neighborhood or large development is eligible to apply.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards have been widely adopted because they don’t dictate how to build, but assign points for every smart step a project takes. The U.S. Green Building Council, sponsor of LEED, took the same flexible approach in creating the new ND (Neighborhood Development) benchmarks. Certain actions, like avoiding floodplains and cutting energy use, are required, but a builder garners other points by developing walkable streets and bike paths, locating near public transit and schools, orienting buildings to make use of the sun’s heat, or managing wastewater and re-using historic buildings.

At a launch party, the creators of LEED-ND said they hope that the standard gives building developers, not just guidance, but recognition and even profit for doing the right thing. They hoped to close the chapter on sprawl in the world’s suburbs, and develop neighborhoods that are more compact, with work, play and shopping all right nearby.

“We in the environmental movement have been very good at identifying the problem, as with the problems of sprawl. We environmentalists have not been so adept…at identifying solutions. This LEED-ND closes that gap,” said Kaid Benfield, director of smart growth for the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-creator of LEED-ND.

The announcement was made at The Alaire, a LEED-ND project underway in surburban Maryland off Rockville Pike, “a sprawling and segregated office corridor,” as developer Tony Greenberg described it.

The Alaire is an example of what LEED-ND is trying to accomplish. Rising from 26 acres of former parking lots instead of from virgin land, the complex has taken many uncommon measures to reduce its impact and earn more LEED points.

It uses 30 percent less water than other projects of its size, assisted by a stormwater management vault and low-flush toilets in all of its common bathrooms. From a top-floor unit, with its energy-efficient appliances, one looks down on the saline swimming pool and a rooftop garden with three-foot-tall grasses planted in a matrix made from recycled plastic bottles.

But some of the most important innovations are at street level. Every street is connected to every other street – no cul-de-sacs here – which will make the entire two-million-square-foot complex walkable.

On one corner, right next to the curbside solar-powered trash compactor, four storefronts are under construction. They include a nail salon, a Chevy Chase bank, a Subway sandwich joint and a sushi restaurant.

Most important of all, the apartments are adjacent to the Twinbrook commuter rail station. The access to public transit, combined with storefronts and offices dotted throughout, means that people may someday be able to live in the Alaire without ever needing to suffer the congestion of Rockville Pike.

Article by David Ferris appearing courtesy Matter Network.

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