In 2009, Baltimore passed an amendment to its building code requiring public and private buildings above 10,000 gross square feet to "be equivalent to a LEED “Silver” level." Obviously, the goal was to get buildings in Baltimore to be more environmentally friendly. Fast forward a year, and a controversy is brewing over whether a proposed Big Box project, including a Lowe’s and a Walmart is actually green. There is some rumbling that the project was not green because it was not being certified by the USGBC, and may not be properly managing its wastewater. According to Baltidome:
During community testimony at the hearing, the Planning Commission was presented with concern that the developers were not applying for LEED “Silver” certification for the project and that the proposed development appears to be failing in its method for waste water management of the site. Despite the developer’s assertions, the project may, in fact, be ineligible for LEED “Silver” standards set by the city.
Without deeply analyzing the nicities of wastewater management, the resistance to the 25th street station project appears to be mainly one of local vs. chain. But I am wrestling with the more basic regulatory concept of incentivizing inner city development because it is green, even if it does not embrace green building practices.
Work with me here. Cities are inherently green. One of my favorite New Yorker articles of all time was David Owen’s 2004 piece on why New York City is sustainable. The argument for 25th Street Station’s green cred goes like this "If the 25th Street Walmart project comes to fruition, your average Baltimorean will have greater access to retail within walking or short driving distance. No need to go to the suburbs to shop, wasting fossil fuel and requiring expensive additional infrastructure. In addition, it provides an amenity which makes inner city living more attractive." Weighed against that, of course, is the long distance shipping of goods to Walmart, and potentially the non-green siting and construction practices. But the non-green practices and the long distance shipping would exist wherever Walmart built, in downtown Baltimore or in an exurban location.
Baltidome is rightly concerned that Baltimore’s green building regulations are not being enforced, and there is currently considerable stress on municipal budgets which are leading to green building programs being scaled back. Are we better off, in an era of severely constrained municipal finances, focusing on incentivizing urban development and renewal than specifying (and enforcing) green building practices?