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.