Shaping the future of land development with site performance data

Published on
14 Jun 2018
Danielle Pieranunzi

Feature image: Washington Canal Park in Washington, D.C.

New construction projects that follow design guidelines and aim to meet performance benchmarks set a critical foundation for sustainability. The SITES v2 Rating System provides a clear framework for developing such projects, while emphasizing site maintenance and encouraging performance monitoring post-construction.

Data enables sustainable site decisions

Landscapes are dynamic, evolving systems. With an increase in extreme climatic events such as drought and flooding, built landscapes must adapt in order to thrive, whether at a park, university campus or corporate headquarters. Human systems also alter the site over time, for better or worse. Aside from implementing sustainable maintenance plans, how can we better ensure that the built landscapes in our communities are performing as intended and provide those essential ecosystem services on which we depend?

Building on the knowledge and experience of the SITES v2 Rating System, GBCI is exploring this question for existing built landscapes and infrastructure. Ongoing site performance monitoring will help us better understand a site’s ecological, social and economic impacts. This insight will allow landowners, facility managers and others to make informed decisions regarding site management and to track a site’s performance over time.

In order to persuade clients, developers, and others, we need an accurate accounting system that takes into consideration the often overlooked services landscapes provide. Site performance data can help to elevate the value of landscapes for a client, site users and the surrounding community. Fortunately, there is a growing amount of literature revealing the benefits of nature, whether at a nature preserve or an urban park.

For instance, the U.S. Forest Service found that urban trees can save cities money: $18 billion in pollution removal, $5 billion in energy efficiency, $5 billion in carbon sequestration and almost $3 billion in avoided emissions. In addition, access to natural settings, or even just views of vegetation, can provide many human health and well-being benefits, such as improved student performance, reduced number of sick days taken by office workers and decreased hospital patient recovery time.

Canal Park benefits the surrounding community

SITES applies this thinking to individual projects. Take for example, the SITES-certified Washington Canal Park, a three-acre urban park located on a former brownfield development site in Washington, D.C. Canal Park is a model of sustainability that has established itself also as a social gathering place and an economic trigger for the surrounding area.

Canal Park in Washington, D.C., is SITES-certified

The park includes an ice rink, a restaurant, an interactive water fountain and public art. It has electric car-charging stations and an extensive stormwater collection and reuse system, including tree boxes and bioswales. With both LEED and SITES certifications, Canal Park offers numerous economic, social and environmental benefits, including

  • Capturing and treats 95 percent of average annual runoff from the site and neighboring streets, amounting to approximately 3 million gallons per year, helping to prevent combined sewer overflows to the Anacostia River.
  • Saving 886,000 gallons of potable water every year by meeting 88 percent of the park’s needs for landscape irrigation, the fountains and the ice skating rink through stormwater reuse. 
  • Saving $4,600 annually by reusing stormwater.
  • Reducing annual energy consumption by 12.6 percent, saving almost $26,000 per year in utility costs by using geothermal ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling the pavilion and restaurant and exterior light fixtures that use 67 percent less power.
  • Contributing to an 18 percent decrease in vehicular speed through the park, compared to the adjacent block, by narrowing the streets and extending park paving materials to create tabletop crosswalks.

A framework to better track ongoing site performance should encourage transparency, set targets for enhancing performance over time and reward leadership. There are various measures for this performance, such as air quality, carbon storage capacity, water consumption, stormwater management, habitat quality, waste reduction and improvements to human health and well-being.

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