Sustainability is about building an economy that is at once durable and responsive to the triple bottom line, nurturing people, planet and profit alike. What is exciting about focusing on neighborhood sustainability is that there are practical strategies that provide especially robust triple bottom line convergence.
Sustainable neighborhoods feature housing choices to meet the needs of the full spectrum of residents and workers along with convenient access to shopping, jobs and places to play. A common feature of all sustainable neighborhoods is that they are highly walkable and bikeable. This is as true for a small farmworker hamlet as it is for a suburban or urban setting. In a metropolitan setting, access to transit is important too.
The benefits of sustainable neighborhood development include lower local public service costs, stronger local and regional economies, a healthier environment and greater access to jobs and housing in high opportunity areas for lower income residents, a key to providing upward mobility and tackling inequality.
Fitting more housing, jobs, shopping and recreational uses close together is key both to saving land and to providing the kind of convenience that makes neighborhoods walkable and minimizes transportation impacts. This requires supportive zoning which is often difficult to secure as many residents fear “density’ in their neighborhood. But with good design, new development can make communities better places to live. Attention to detail is the deciding factor. That is why LEED for Neighborhood Development provides more that 1/3 of its points for neighborhood pattern and design. The rewards for getting it right are neighborhoods that allow all of us to lead safer, healthier, more productive lives.
Defining sustainable neighborhoods is a complex endeavor. Two systems we find especially helpful are:
LEED ND is a collaborative project of the US Green Building Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Congress for a New Urbanism. It is the standard bearer for measuring neighborhood sustainability and is the most comprehensive of such standards. LEED-ND integrates the principles of new urbanism, green building, and smart growth into the first national standard for neighborhood design, expanding LEED's scope beyond individual buildings to a more holistic concern about the context of those buildings.
GREEN TRIP is a standard developed by Transform, a group that works on transportation and land use policy headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area. It lacks many of the design criteria that make LEED ND so useful, but focuses on a few key strategies that are especially effective for sites located on the transit back bone of a relatively transit oriented metropolitan area. This standard places a heavy emphasis on transportation demand management strategies, as for instance providing long term transit passes to all residents of Green Trips certified residential projects and limits on off street parking.
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