Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Impressions of the LEED Green Neighborhood Rating System

I recently had a chance to read "LEED-ND What the Skeptics Say" in the December 2010 issue of Planning magazine. This got me thinking that I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with LEED-ND, the new rating system for environmentally friendlier neighborhoods from the US Green Building Council, so I decided to correct that and download a 148 page document that describes it (available here).

My half-assed skimming of this document, and particularly the summary of the rating system on pages vii-viii has allowed me to make a few preliminary observations.

What LEED-ND Is
There are five categories of things for which you can get points for a total of 100 possible "base" points plus 10 extra points:

Smart Location and Linkage (27 possible points)
Neighborhood Pattern and Design (44 possible points)
Green Infrastructure and Buildings (29 possible points)

Innovation and Design Process (6 possible points)
Regional Priority Credit (4 possible points)

To qualify for any points in a category you have to meet prerequisite conditions that aren't necessarily worth any points themselves, but instead unlock the category's points. For example, the Neighborhood Plan and Design category has three prerequisites: "walkable streets", "compact development", and "connected and open community".

There are four levels of certification: certified (40-49 points), silver (50-59), gold (60-79), and platinum (80 and above).

Gut Reaction
Okay so now some observations. First off, the bar seems pretty low for getting certified. You only need 40 out of 110 possible points (isn't 36% an F in school?). Then again, since you have to meet the prerequisites to open up the categories, maybe this isn't as bad as it seems. Also, it could make sense to set the bar a little low so that people in politically-challenged communities have an incentive to try.

Bicycles seem to be pretty unimportant in the system. I see the word "bicycle" once in the summary of points for "bicycle network and storage". Satisfying this condition earns you a whopping 1 point. However, some other conditions may make it easier to bike, such as "locations with reduced automobile dependence", "housing and jobs proximity" and "transportation demand management". Similarly with transit, there is only a single explicit point that mentions transit: "transit facilities". Yet we also have "compact development" (which supports transit, other things equal), "locations with reduced automobile dependence", etc.

So, in sum, LEED-ND is interesting, there's a lot to learn about it, and I'm still learning :)

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