Tag Archives: location efficiency

LEED ND regional suitability analysis going national

Regular readers know I’m interested in how to use LEED ND as a tool for assessing regional development suitability.  I’ve been tardy in relaying news about good work being done in other regions.  Back in January, Jason Woycke contacted me about replicating the analysis for King County, in the Seattle region.  Jason is the President of Cascadia Planning and at the time was a Masters student in the planning program at the University of Washington.

The Cascade Land Conservancy was Jason’s client for the project, and according to Jason’s website, the maps will “help the Cascade Land Conservancy visually communicate the need for careful planning of where growth should be accommodated in the region and where growth should be avoided”.

Jason finished the analysis (I think near the end of spring semester 2011), and it looks great.  He generously agreed to provide me with a copy of the full report, which you can see here (large pdf).  Jason was awarded the UW Department of Urban Design and Planning 2011 Professionals Council Outstanding Professional Project Award for his work.

The analysis Jason used for King County appears to be very similar to my approach for the Twin Cities – focusing on the Smart Location and Linkage prerequisites.  I don’t believe any of the Neighborhood Pattern and Design prerequisites were included, which is a minor difference between the two approaches.

Is Chicagoland next?

More recently, I’ve heard from another aspiring urban planning masters student who is exploring the possibility of replicating this analysis for the Chicago region.  If this analysis happens, it will be complete in spring of 2012.

LEED ND resources for local governments

A friend tipped me off to this opportunity for local communities to get design assistance based on LEED ND.  EPA is funding this work as part of it’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program.

Through a 3-day intensive visit and consultation, the Global Green team will evaluate a specific neighborhood. Prior to the visit the team will conduct an extensive review of existing plans, the neighborhood form, and the existing pattern of development. During the site assessment the team will identify the existing positive qualities of the neighborhood, consult with community stakeholders in meetings and a public workshop, and identify major opportunities to improve neighborhood sustainability.

At the conclusion of the visit the team will present recommendations for both physical and policy changes that may include street width reductions, ecological restoration, integrated energy and water infrastructure, creating standards for in-fill and transit-oriented development, or zoning code revisions to allow for urban agriculture or mixed-use development.

This is another significant output of the HUD-DOT-EPA partnership, one of the others being the metrics for sustainable transportation.

Another tool that I found from the Global Green website is A Local Government Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development from USGBC, which includes multiple approaches local governments can take with the rating system, including reviewing plans for consistency with the rating system and determining what areas of the community might be eligible, which is a concept frequent readers of this blog might be familiar with.

Using LEED ND to strengthen existing neighborhoods

pride at loring park

I’ve written a lot about LEED ND, the rating system built to define sustainable neighborhoods, including how to use it as a framework for sustainable regional planning.  Typically, the rating system is applied to new development or redevelopment: when new streets, buildings and infrastructure systems are being built.  Rarely has it been applied to an existing neighborhood, where development or redevelopment is occurring at a slow pace and changes to major infrastructure systems are unlikely or occurring incrementally.  That application was simply not the original purpose of LEED ND.  I’ve always viewed LEED ND as providing an alternative to a model of traditional suburban development that has low connectivity, low density and poor location efficiency.  In its current form, it is best suited as a guide to help us plan and build new development more sustainably.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t many valuable lessons for existing neighborhoods within the LEED ND system.  While we know that the greenest development is almost always the one that is already built, existing neighborhoods can often lack connectivity, walkability, density or other design features, which if retrofitted over time, could make them more livable and sustainable.

Neighborhoods and cities concerned about maintaining and improving livability, sustainability and financial viability are using LEED ND in just this way.  The Loring Park neighborhood in Minneapolis is in the process of creating a neighborhood master plan to shape their community for the next twenty years.  The neighborhood partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to assess the neighborhood’s sustainability using the LEED ND system.  Loring Park would also like to become officially certified as a LEED ND “project”, either under the current system or under a pilot existing neighborhoods program an alternative path for neighborhood and small areas plans that USGBC is developing.  A volunteer group, including yours truly, is working to help the neighborhood meet this goal.

The purpose of pursuing certification is to make this already green neighborhood even greener.  If Loring Park falls short in certain parts of the rating system, these shortcomings can be turned directly into goals for the master plan.  The Loring Park Draft Concept Plan includes a goal related to sustainable buildings and infrastructure and includes these goals for the use of LEED ND:

Further utilize the LEED-ND rating framework to:

  • periodically gauge neighborhood wide performance and progress toward sustainability goals
  • set in place (or augment) design guidelines or to set parameters for private project review and approval, or to gauge the merits of specific capital improvement projects
  • structure performance criteria for various incentives
  • preparation for government grants or other support from agencies that are familiar with LEED-ND rating system or that directly utilize LEED- ND standards as performance criteria

Our volunteer group, organized by the USGBC Minnesota Chapter and Loring Park residents, has just begun the certification process for the neighborhood.  This process will be a great opportunity to document the challenges of applying LEED ND to an existing neighborhood and review the rating system’s usefulness for a community planning process.  Stay tuned.

 

Location Efficiency is More Important than Home Efficiency for Energy Savings

 

An EPA-supported study shows that if you’re concerned about energy use from urban development (in this case, residential buildings), you should look at location efficiency first, rather than building efficiency.  The study describes location efficiency this way:

Housing that is located in a walkable neighborhood near public transit, employment centers, schools, and other amenities allows residents to drive less and thereby reduces transportation costs.  Development in such locations is deemed to be “location efficient,” given a more compact design, higher-density construction, and/ or inclusion of a diverse mix of uses.

As the graph above shows, locating housing in location-efficient neighborhoods has a greater impact on the combined housing-transportation energy use than improving the performance of buildings and automobiles.  EPA says that locating homes in these areas, where some automobile trips can be replaced with transit or other transportation modes, lead to reductions in household energy use of 39 to 50 percent.  While I’m a little hesitant about the study’s assumptions of a 45 percent reduction in vehicle miles in TOD neighborhoods, the larger point is still valid: location has a large impact on energy use by urban development, larger than is often assumed, and deserving of more attention than it’s given.

The study uses energy consumption data for housing and transportation that was collected as national averages, not for any particular location.  The “energy-efficient” homes data was based on Energy Star homes.  So, of course, results from specific regions or cities may vary.  Also, Energy Star is not the most energy efficient way to build a home, but it’s relatively affordable and has large market share compared with other home rating systems.

While location efficiency may be more important than building efficiency in terms of energy savings, it’s obviously a more complicated and politically charged topic than building energy efficiency.  Improvements to buildings bring nearly immediate and focused benefits to owners, while decisions about density and location have benefits which are more widely distributed and whose paybacks accumulate over a longer period.  Matthew Lister, who works for the firm that prepared the study, told Environmental Building News we shouldn’t just focus on the energy savings, though:

“The underlying story is about quality of life.” The choice to live in a densely settled, mixed-use neighborhood, Lister argues, is not just about saving money or even the planet; it’s about “less time in the car and access to more choices,” as well as more work opportunities. The report also touches on social equity, he said. “People have to drive further and further out so they can afford a house,” but then end up “shackled to two car payments,” which raises the effective cost of their housing.

Using LEED ND for municipal planning and zoning

This video from Criterion Planners shows a step-by-step process to use LEED ND to assess “smart” locations in a city. This process could be used during a plan update, or to make changes to the zoning code. Knowing the process, and which parcels are eligible, can also help the city increase the number of eligible areas using regulatory tools.

This process is very similar to the method I used to assess LEED ND eligibility and “location efficiency” for the Twin Cities metro region in previous posts.

What locations in the Twin Cities are eligible for LEED ND: Part 4

Areas in the Metro Eligible for LEED ND

As part of a series, I’ve been exploring what locations in the Twin Cities metro are eligible for LEED ND based on the land use characteristics.  These locations could be considered “location efficient”, a concept which has gained importance recently due to changes in federal policy that direct the expenditure of federal money.  The benefits of location efficiency include “connecting conveniently and affordably to jobs, schools, shops and other amenities through a range of transportation options”, according to HUD Secretary Donovan.

I would argue that we can also use LEED ND as a guide for growing our region more sustainably.  The requirements of the rating system can show us where it would be appropriate to target future growth, what areas should be preserved until sufficient infrastructure is available, and what areas are totally off-limits.  HUD, DOT and EPA are promoting a similar line of thinking with their recent partnership on Sustainable Communities and corresponding grant opportunity. Continue reading

What locations in the Twin Cities are eligible for LEED ND: Part 3

Traditional Neighborhood Design - Minneapolis 1892

In an ongoing series, I’ve been trying to define areas of the Twin Cities metro that are “location efficient” using the USGBC’s LEED ND rating system.  The previous posts focused on those requirements of LEED ND that cannot be met through the design of the project itself: features of the built and natural environment that determine a minimum eligibility for LEED ND based on location.  This resulted in a map of areas in the region that met this basic level of “location efficiency”.

However, there are a few other requirements of LEED ND that can technically be met through the project design, but may not be able to be met in reality based on the existing built environment, or the current planning or zoning rules in a particular location.  For example, LEED ND requires a minimum density for both residential and non-residential uses.  Technically the density of the project is controllable by the project designer, however, if a city has land use regulations in place that only permit densities lower than what is required by LEED ND, plan and zoning amendments or variances would need to be granted before the project could go forward, all of which are not certain.  Many communities are averse to the levels of density required by LEED ND, and therefore elected officials would be unlikely to grant such changes to land use regulations. Continue reading