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LEED-ND, New Green Design Standards for Neighborhoods

By Buck Abbey, ASLA

The principles upon which LEED-ND standards will be based will help build better developments by promoting compact building design, multiple transportation choices, walk-able neighborhoods and a range of housing types.

The American Green Building Council (USGBC) recently announced that new standards are being developed for the design, planning and rating of green neighborhoods. These standards will apply to both new developments and rebuilt neighborhoods and will lead to better designed communities--greener, smarter and more urban communities!

Although standards have been around for several years that promote green buildings, these new standards will apply to neighborhoods. A rating system for neighborhoods known as LEED-ND, is being developed for the design of residential districts in a similar fashion as were the original LEED standards for green buildings. The green building design standards (known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design--LEED) were created to rate and reward environmentally sensitive and energy-conserving buildings. Green buildings utilize sustainable site development, conserve water and energy, feature environmentally-friendly materials and promote indoor environmental quality.

Now standards are being created for well-designed neighborhoods based upon similar notions and will feature smart growth design and planning criteria that should interest all landscape architects. Smart growth principles include land-planning objectives that encourage mixed land use, distinctively designed communities that evoke a sense of place and the preservation of open space, natural beauty and critical environmental areas.

Well-designed projects can be rated by the USGBC and given awards. This is a voluntary program whereby qualifying projects may be awarded a platinum, gold or silver rating based upon a point system that is still being worked out by the organizers of this program. This is similar to how green buildings are rated for their high performance and sustainability.

Now what is interesting to landscape architects is that the LEED-ND standards are being promulgated by three leading environmental organizations including the USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The three organizations working together represent architects, engineers, interior designers, builders, developers and environmentalists. CNU is bringing smart growth principles to the program, while the NRDC is placing a spotlight on environmental preservation as a smart-growth initiative.

It is interesting to note that the American Society of Landscape Architects is not a party to this program.

Landscape architects have been involved in the design of neighborhoods since the 1860s. In addition, many landscape architects subscribe to the principles of smart growth, the new urbanism and green building design. Landscape architecture practice qualifies practitioners to design sites that preserve natural habitat and rebuild sites according to nature's principles. In addition, landscape architects commonly manage on-site storm water, conserve potable water, arrange building clusters and open space for maximum effect and promote pedestrianism for walk-ability and connectivity. Natural materials used in site design such as trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers, mulch, controlled irrigation systems and porous paving, properly designed, will reduce urban heat islands, filter storm water and clean the air.

The USGBC is inviting volunteers to sit on a 'committee of correspondence' to review the LEED-ND design standards as they are researched, developed and discussed. Interested landscape architects should contact the USGBC by e-mail at to volunteer for review of the site design standards that are being created for the LEED-ND program.

D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Legislation.

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December 8, 2019, 8:10 am PDT

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