Design

Published on May 8th, 2008 | by Kristin Dispenza

14

Can Sprawl be Green?

The NAHB and ICC are Working on a New set of Green Building StandardsIn my post of May 6th, “Traditional Neighborhood Development and LEED Go Hand in Hand,” I made the point that smart growth and new urbanism are helping give a ‘boost’ to green building practices. While conducting research for that article, however, I did find several assertions to the contrary.  So, for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I will here take a look at some of those assertions.

It seems evident that small houses, situated in walkable neighborhoods, are greener than large homes occupying automobile-dependent sites. The new LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system draws heavily from principles of new urbanism and smart growth. New urbanism includes sustainability as one of its tenets (see Green Communities, Part 1: New Urbanism), and many of the primary elements of smart growth (as listed on their website) have become synonymous with green:

  • Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty and Critical Environmental Areas
  • Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
  • Strengthen and Direct Development Towards Existing Communities
  • Take Advantage of Compact Building Design

But is density, in fact, a prerequisite for green development?

Wayne A. Lemmon, a planner and real estate economist, argued in his article, “Can Sprawl be Good,” that (among other things), “Concentrating development in areas already served by public facilities makes good sense, but only up to the point where available capacity is fully utilized.”  

The National Association of Home Builders takes particular exception to the assumptions that underpin LEED. Their online article, “New LEED Certification for Development Found Wanting,” examines LEED-ND, and proposes that it may actually be inhibiting the progress of green development.  

NAHB land use planner Edward Tombari explains:

Based on NAHB’s experience with smart growth and new urbanism design principles, a majority of the projects being built by developers today that incorporate Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) principles might be able to achieve some lower-level LEED recognition. However, while the number of communities using TND principles is rising, the vast majority do not because TND favors higher density and most new development occurs in suburban and exurban greenfield locations. While this excludes much new development from being eligible to meet the criteria being established by LEED-ND, NAHB believes new development affords many opportunities for implementing green development principles.

Even though the notion of returning to ‘Main Street America’ seems to have captured the popular imagination, there is no sign that the production of large, detached, single-family homes will actually be coming to a halt anytime soon. (Barbara Faga’s article  on Planetizen, “Two Things People Hate: Density and Sprawl,” spurred a lively debate on this topic a few weeks ago.)

So, if urban sprawl is on a roll that cannot yet be stopped, can a neighborhood rating system that prioritizes density accomplish significant change? Many industry professionals believe that the LEED programs in place so far have managed to make a broad impact upon construction practices precisely because they have not set the bar impossibly high. Now the NAHB and the International Code Council are working on their own consensus-based National Green Building Standard, and this standard will be applicable to a wide range of developments, including conventional, suburban ones. (To view progress on the draft Standard, visit the NAHB Research Center site.) If consumers find the National Green Building Standard to be more adaptable than LEED, then perhaps LEED will have met its match in the American marketplace.

Photo Credit: NAHB
 




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  • http://www.doubleglazingontheweb.co.uk Pam Stacey

    i agree that development would afford many opportunities!hope it works!

  • http://www.doubleglazingontheweb.co.uk Pam Stacey

    i agree that development would afford many opportunities!hope it works!

  • Kyle

    Keep in mind the agenda of the NAHB: to pump out single family homes. LEED-ND leans away from that, with mixed use more in the forefront.

    Of course they are going to have a problem with it. It undermines their core business.

  • Kyle

    Keep in mind the agenda of the NAHB: to pump out single family homes. LEED-ND leans away from that, with mixed use more in the forefront.

    Of course they are going to have a problem with it. It undermines their core business.

  • http://GreenBuildingElements Kristin Dispenza

    Kyle, I definitely agree that the NAHB is trying to protect it’s core business. I guess my question is, will the market reward their efforts? (I actually think it will.) And in that case, is it one step forward for green design overall, or two steps back?

  • http://www.repreneur.typepad.com Kyle Cherrick

    I applaud LEED-ND for not accepting the status quo by being “accepting of all housing schemes, as long as they utilize green principles”.

    Of course urban living is greener than slightly-modified suburban living. Those new walkable communities are still going to be built in sprawling green fields, which would be fine except that the jobs are in the cities. So those residents will still have to drive 45 miles in their personal car to get to work each day. Public transit will never make it to these areas because there is no density.

    I expect the market to continue valuing LEED as the premier green certification. Preston Koerner has informed all of us that LEED certified projects financially crush non-LEED buildings, including beating handily those projects that are Energy Star Rated.

    Bravo to the USGBC’s LEED certification. Now someone start building LEED Condos I can afford please.

  • http://www.repreneur.typepad.com Kyle Cherrick

    I applaud LEED-ND for not accepting the status quo by being “accepting of all housing schemes, as long as they utilize green principles”.

    Of course urban living is greener than slightly-modified suburban living. Those new walkable communities are still going to be built in sprawling green fields, which would be fine except that the jobs are in the cities. So those residents will still have to drive 45 miles in their personal car to get to work each day. Public transit will never make it to these areas because there is no density.

    I expect the market to continue valuing LEED as the premier green certification. Preston Koerner has informed all of us that LEED certified projects financially crush non-LEED buildings, including beating handily those projects that are Energy Star Rated.

    Bravo to the USGBC’s LEED certification. Now someone start building LEED Condos I can afford please.

  • http://www.sehbac.com/double-glazing/ Double Glazing

    You’re right with the green requirements for urban planning. Cause if it is not adhered to, then we can have some serious issues yeah!

  • http://www.sehbac.com/double-glazing/ Double Glazing

    You’re right with the green requirements for urban planning. Cause if it is not adhered to, then we can have some serious issues yeah!

  • http://www.doubleglazingshop.co.uk/ double glazing

    Its best to go green, i hope the development works out well.

  • http://www.doubleglazingshop.co.uk/ double glazing

    Its best to go green, i hope the development works out well.

  • http://www.villageinburnsharbor.com Tyler DeMar

    Hello everyone! It just so happens that my development, The Village in Burns Harbor, became the 1st Green Certified Development through the NAHB… and guess what? Where a New Urbanist Development! While we do like the system setup by NAHB, we are interested in doing the LEED-ND program in our next development with the NAHB program. The main reason we didn’t on this one was the required densities were 8 per acre, and we’re at 6. Can anyone give me a comparative analysis of the leap we will have to take to go from NAHB to LEED-ND? Thanks!

    tylerdemar@me.com

  • http://www.villageinburnsharbor.com Tyler DeMar

    Hello everyone! It just so happens that my development, The Village in Burns Harbor, became the 1st Green Certified Development through the NAHB… and guess what? Where a New Urbanist Development! While we do like the system setup by NAHB, we are interested in doing the LEED-ND program in our next development with the NAHB program. The main reason we didn’t on this one was the required densities were 8 per acre, and we’re at 6. Can anyone give me a comparative analysis of the leap we will have to take to go from NAHB to LEED-ND? Thanks!

    tylerdemar@me.com

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