Appendix A:

The following is quoted directly from a May 2008 master’s thesis by Allison Gayle Mouch from the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture titled  “From the Ground Up: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Development.”

“Community planners and transportation analysts began thinking about ways to develop more compact cities and communities starting in the 1970s; resulting in the creation of the Smart Growth approach to development.  Smart Growth is an urban planning theory that concentrates growth and development in existing urban areas, in an effort to avoid sprawl and preserve open space.  It advocates for compact, transit-oriented, walkable mixed-use development, valuing long-range planning and regional considerations of development (This Is Smart Growth 2006, 1).  While Smart Growth utilized policy through ordinances and zoning code to accomplish many of its principles for development, the goals and objectives promoted through a Smart Growth approach to planning and design often went hand-in-hand with the tools and criteria recommended by LEED and Earthcraft systems for urban and suburban design and construction.  In this way, Smart Growth is often associated with the LEED rating system, especially in the LEED-ND pilot program, and through the Earthcraft Community Development toolkit.

While the Smart Growth, LEED and Earthcraft approach to sustainable development was evolving during this time, two additional rating systems were being developed, in response to the lack of site planning and design criteria allotted to the existing standards.  Audubon International’s Principles for Sustainable Resource Management were first developed in the early 1990s, focused on promoting more sustainable patterns of land use and sustainable resource management.  Revised in 2005, these principles outline a self-proclaimed “foundation for sustainability” ensuring that development maintains or enhances environmental quality of life for future generations.  Biological diversity and natural resource management serve as cornerstones in the Audubon methodology.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI) was founded in 2005 for the similar purpose of creating a mechanism to guide, measure and recognize sustainable land practices on a site-by-site basis.  Developed in partnership through the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the United States Botanic Garden, and other stakeholders, the Preliminary Report on Standards and Guidelines for Sustainable Sites is the first step toward creating a system of standards that will guide development and promote a thorough understanding of the healthy systems and best management practices that permit the built landscape to support natural ecological functions that occur naturally on-site (ASLA Preliminary Report on Standards and Guidelines for Sustainable Sites, 2007).  In addition to the stakeholders identified, over 30 experts currently serve on subcommittees that continue to develop standards for soils, hydrology, vegetation, human well-being and materials, to be incorporated in the finalized rating system and report (due for completion May 2011-2012).  While no formalized partnership currently exists between ASLA and Audubon International, the USGBC recently agreed to incorporate standards and criteria identified by the SSI in future iterations of their LEED Green Building Rating System. 

The newest rating system to address sustainable development is LAND Code, a guide to ecologically sound land development intended for architects, engineers, developers, city officials and other interested individuals.  The system claims easy integration with LEED, EPA and other tools and guidelines, and closely follows the organization of LEED with silver, gold and platinum levels of achievement (Balmori and Benoit 2007, 5).  It focuses on the land itself rather than the building or building envelope, and clearly identifies the benefits of each measure for the developer and the ecosystem, stressing how developing sustainably can be positive for all involved.

In this brief overview of the existing systems evaluated during the course of my research, one might note that although a myriad of rating systems and methodology exists guiding sustainable development, the evolution of these systems occurred illogically – beginning with LEED and the actual construction of the buildings themselves, progressing to regional urban and suburban growth policy and land use, followed by site specific landscape and natural resource criteria.  The inconsistency of this process has led to overlap between some rating systems and gaps among others; in many cases, these approaches aim to accomplish the same goals, but fail to recognize the correlation (and in certain instances, validity of) other rating systems or approaches.  The most significant gaps that exist in these rating systems must therefore be addressed before a comprehensive approach to sustainable development is introduced, integrating successful facets of each rating system.

Gaps in the System
Each rating system has proved successful in many ways while negligent in others.  The expansion of LEED beyond building construction and energy use is in direct response to criticism that the rating system is flawed for its narrow view of sustainable development.  The rating system has been called “costly, slow, confusing and unwieldy” for its approach to construction documentation and high price tag for certification.  “Point-mongering”, the practice of applying for point credits that are cheaper or easier to obtain also hurts the credibility and effectiveness of LEED as a rating system (Schendler and Udall 2005).  Most importantly, LEED’s effectiveness as a rating system for sustainable development is reduced by its oversight of site conditions directly influenced by building construction, and the influence sustainable site design has on regional issues such as habitat connectivity and water resources.

In many ways, LEED for Neighborhood Development has sought to rectify this oversight on its parent programs part.  Although still in the pilot phases of development, the program should be commended primarily on its approach to location and linkage.  It institutes many of the principles identified by the Smart Growth movement, directing points awarded to development that avoids wetland and habitat in attempt to preserve open space and reduce sprawl.  However, it does not offer insight or suggestion when dealing with development that does occur in rural areas, instead focusing on neighborhood pattern and design protocol that assumes an urban or suburban context.  This is an ideal approach if every future LEED-ND project were to be built in an urban context, but this highly unlikely.  The feared result is a “new urbanist” approach to suburban and rural development; mini-communities exhibiting select criteria of a LEED-ND approach transplanted in the urban fringe.  The community itself may be walkable and preserve open space within its boundaries, but may remain disconnected from similar communities and viable ecosystems due to the faults of the LEED point system.  Allowing developers to choose which points they apply for enables this type of development to deviate from the goals it may have originally intended.

The Earthcraft Community rating system has approached sustainable development from a similar angle as LEED-ND, integrating community-wide planning and design criteria that emphasize elements of low impact development (LID) and open space protection throughout.  Earthcraft is also unique in its inclusion of a community engagement component to supplement sustainable planning and design criteria.  What is missing in this approach, however, is similar to the gaps in LEED-ND; site selection criteria does not inform where a development should occur or not occur, instead focusing on what to do within the development boundary itself.  Once again, the program focuses on the urban/suburban development model, encouraging Brownfield and infill development without taking the time to guide what happens beyond this community type.  Regional connectivity is not prioritized, unless in the form of public transit or bike lanes.

The principles of Smart Growth generally support infill development, through the promotion of walk-able neighborhoods, mixed land uses, compact building design, directing development toward existing communities, providing a variety of public transportation options, and the overarching desire to preserve open space, farmland and the natural beauty and ecology of natural areas.  While the approach typically orients itself toward creating inviting communities and residential areas in the urban and suburban realm, the overarching goals of Smart Growth support regional planning techniques and guidelines in favor of limited development in rural and environmentally sensitive areas.  Were the Smart Growth Initiative to expand its vision and focus, the practice of rural Smart Growth, with regard to open space conservation and agriculture preservation might be equally effective in these areas that are overlooked by the existing program goals.

The Audubon’s Sustainable Resource Management program and ASLA’s Standards and Guidelines for Sustainable Sites both address the issue of site design relating to broader issues of site hydrology and natural habitat, areas that have been overlooked in LEED, Earthcraft and Smart Growth methods of development.  While both systems do a better job of linking site design with regional planning issues such as watershed boundaries and the preservation of larg(er) tracts of natural habitat, they each have their problems.  In its current state the Standards and Guidelines for Sustainable Sites focuses only on what exists onsite, not what is intended for construction.  It has yet to be effectively integrated into the LEED system, although talks are ongoing.  The guidelines offer no suggestion as to how a building or community would accomplish the goals set forth in the document; it only lists what criteria should be incorporated for mapping and inventory purposes.  The Audubon approach sets clearer standards in accomplishing goals for building site integration, but a significant number of “criteria” are regulatory in nature, guidance for community HOA documents instead of planning and construction specs.  While such guidelines are important, they may merit the creation of a separate document guiding behavior over planning and design.

In many ways, LAND Code has presented a more successful systems approach to land development, integrating criteria for planning and design prior to, and in preparation for construction.  It also identifies sustainable construction criteria; LEED-ND is the only other rating system that recognizes sustainable construction management practices.  However, LAND Code fails to adequately address the regional context of the site, focusing more on the natural and ecological benefits to preserve within the boundaries of a site instead of how these values interact within the broader ecological region.  Appropriate site selection is not discussed in the LAND Code system, and external connectivity is only addressed as it relates to energy and public transportation options.  The system is successful in prioritizing a site’s natural resources over development potential.  However, if site selection and regional planning is not integrated successfully in this rating criteria, the value of encouraging stream buffers and generous habitat corridors will be useless against traditional development upstream or nearby.

Each rating system has been proven successful in certain aspects of sustainable development, and unsuccessful in others.  The disconnect in using any one system over another is that no existing method effectively covers all aspects of planning and design that it takes to develop in a sustainable manner.  Regional planning and land management tools have been wholly overlooked for their part in the preliminary stages of conscientious development.  While certain approaches (SSI, Audubon, LAND Code) have begun to integrate aspects of water and habitat conservation, restoration, hydrologic function and soil quality into the criteria, the connection is lost between these site-level rating systems and those concerned more with structure and energy.  To be effective in the guidance and promotion of sustainable development, rating systems must include the very beginning of the planning process, addressing the linkage between regional, community, site and structural decisions.”

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Protecting Green Infrastructure Pays Dividends

  • An old levee on Savannah River becomes a “riverwalk” with $8 million invested = a return of $198 million in new investment.
  • National Association of Realtors Study (NAR) of homebuyers: 1-2% golfed, 5-6% swim and more than 50% use paths.
  • NAR showed 57% of voters are more likely to purchase a home near to green space and 50% are willing to pay 10% more.
  • Homes adjacent to a greenbelt in Boulder Colorado were valued 32% higher than those 3,200 feet distant (Correll et al, 1978)