Neighborhood Development -- Planning for Sustainable Sites and Communities

Published on
28 Aug 2020
Juliette Desfeux, Sustainable Building Consultant, Spinnaker Group
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Over the course of the past decade, communities throughout Florida have seen the rapid adoption of sustainability principles integrated into the buildings in which we live, work and play. With more than 2,800 LEED certified commercial buildings in the State of Florida (representing more than 174 million gross square feet), and another 190+ million sf of Energy Star buildings, there is little question that developers and project teams are seeing the value of creating healthy and high performing green buildings.

Despite the transformation at the individual building level, many of these same Florida communities are subject to sprawling land-development patterns -- those defined by bedroom communities and strip commercial centers with excess parking, connected by environmentally degrading street networks. Our disturbed landscapes too often consist of large swaths of water-hogging turf-grass and the decimation of native habitats by invasive, toxic and nuisance plants.

Another disturbing fact is that three-fourths of Florida’s population lives near the coastline, and coastal counties generate 79% of the state’s local annual economy, making the region extremely vulnerable to sea level rise -- our maximum elevation is 400 feet! Sea level rise is one of climate change’s effects that will directly affect communities, so we have to prepare now to improve our neighborhoods' resilience. How sustainable are net-zero communities 40 miles away from job centers, or big box stores surrounded by acres of surface parking and no connectivity to nearby uses? It’s time for sustainability practitioners to think outside the box, beyond the building envelope and into the public realm, focusing on the broader landscape that defines our towns and cities.

LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND)
Similar to the way LEED for Building Design & Construction (BD+C) was created as a tool for market transformation of individual buildings, the U.S. Green Building Council partnered with the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council to create a LEED rating system focused on sustainability at the neighborhood scale: LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND).

LEED ND is a tool that assists planners in bringing forward an alternative, sustainable form of growth. It strives for the creation of compact, walkable, vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods with good connections to nearby communities.

Companies such as Spinnaker Group that are prioritizing LEED certification for projects at different scales play an important role in supporting larger sustainability goals. Building by building, neighborhood by neighborhood, and city by city, LEED projects are helping to improve the living standard for people.

"The goal is to provide communities with solutions that not only promote sustainable and resilient development, but also encourage decisions that are best for people, the planet and businesses," says Jonathan Burgess, President of Spinnaker Group. "Too often, land is seen as an afterthought -- something to be shaped and altered once elements like buildings and roads are finalized. The truth is, it's a critical part of managing and protecting the environment around us. LEED and SITES help project teams make decisions around land that improves sustainability, as well as resilience."

Spinnaker Group has been at the forefront of developing LEED ND projects in the Sunshine State. A wide variety of private and public developments can be LEED ND certified, if they count at least two habitable buildings. The Spinnaker team has consulted on Miami Worldcenter and Miami Design District (both Miami-based projects), CityPlace (now Rosemary Square) in West Palm Beach, and Northwest Gardens in Fort Lauderdale. Each are vibrant new communities where people from all over the world live, work and have fun in the most sustainable and people-oriented environments. Visit here to learn more about each of these projects.

Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES)
In addition to LEED, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI ... the certifying body that administers the LEED program) began administering the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) certification. Using the SITES rating system, project teams develop sustainable and resilient landscapes according to the latest best practices and standards. There are currently more than 160 projects participating across 10 countries, 26 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Certification can be achieved for sites with or without buildings, ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, streetscapes and homes, and much more. One such example is the SITES-certified US Federal Office Building located in Miramar, Florida. Spinnaker Group is also currently helping pursue SITES certification for three other unique projects -- Skate Free Miami - Lot 11 in Miami, and 500 and 600 Alton Park (see image above right) in Miami Beach. Click here to learn more about these two projects.

To further streamline the integration of each rating system, GBCI identified synergies and equivalencies between them. For instance, all projects that achieve SITES Gold certification or higher are awarded all of the credits in the Sustainable Sites category in the LEED BD+C v4 rating system. Further, all buildings located within a LEED ND certified neighborhood are awarded points in the Location and Transportation category, according to the LEED ND certification level.

In the wide panorama of sustainable certifications, some are not related to a single project, but instead work at city, county or even regional scales. Two of the most relevant, LEED for Cities and Communities and EcoDistricts Certification, are strong planning and measuring tools for their communities.

LEED for Cities and Communities
Over the last 20 years, LEED has created a globally consistent standard for building and neighborhood sustainability performance. As a result, millions of people are living, working and learning in LEED-certified green buildings and neighborhoods. It has fundamentally changed the way business, people and governments think about the design, construction and operations of these spaces.

In 2016, USGBC expanded that work to cities and communities. Recognizing they, too, lacked a consistent way to measure and track sustainability performance, the organization introduced LEED for Cities and Communities, enabling LEED's suite of rating systems to seamlessly integrate sustainability across all levels of development. In Florida, Atlantic Beach, Coral Springs, Miami, Miami Beach, Orlando, Palm Bay, Pinecrest, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa have already either achieved this important certification or are pursuing it for their citywide sustainability and resiliency efforts, as are several Sunshine State counties. Click here to learn more.

EcoDistricts Certification
The EcoDistricts certification Protocol is a rigorous standard and tool designed to foster neighborhood sustainability through social equity and smart urban planning. The core mission of EcoDistricts is to advance a new model of urban regeneration and community development rooted in a relentless commitment to authentic collaboration and social, economic and ecological innovation. The organization's work is powered by the growing number of inspired urban change-makers -- including Spinnaker Group -- who are reimagining the future of cities. Visit here to learn more about the EcoDistricts certification Protocol.

Land and environment knit together the fabric of our communities, and sustainable infrastructure and landscapes are critical in their ability to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. The LEED, SITES and EcoDistricts certification programs are outstanding tools that allow planners and architects to focus on sustainability at the neighborhood scale, from long-term planning and performance tracking to building and landscape design. They allow us to focus on resiliency and on creating sustainable communities that connect people to each other, while at the same time safeguarding ourselves against an increasingly disruptive climate.


Read the original article on Spinnaker Group website

About the guest author organization:

The South Florida based green-building consulting firm Spinnaker Group brings extensive knowledge and experience to project teams. The company has more than 140 LEED Certified projects under its belt and more than 700 million sf of commissioned building space worldwide. In addition to tapping USGBC's LEED and other rating systems as anchors of its sustainable consulting services, Spinnaker's diverse team of design and construction professionals offer project management, energy modeling, fundamental and enhanced building commissioning, neighborhood planning, operations and maintenance consulting, indoor air quality testing, and life-cycle analyses for all types of building projects.