Smart Locations, Neighborhood Patterns, Green Infrastructure: A Look at LEED Neighborhood Development

Posted on: November 24th, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 6 Comments

A typical "walkable street" in the Back Bay of Boston.

LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) is in some respects as different from LEED 2009 as it is similar. It has a very different construct (4 sections instead of 6), was developed by a working group of three organizations – USGBC, Natural Resources Defense Council (representing the Smart Growth community) and Congress for New Urbanism – and focuses on infrastructure and the public realm, with buildings as just one component. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been advising the staff at USGBC for the past 6 months on the final edits to LEED ND and we’re very pleased to announce and discuss the changes that are out for public comment right now. And to encourage you to read the new system and send in your comments.

At the Greenbuild conference, Sophie Lambert, the Director of LEED ND, coordinated and presented a really clear and concise session on the changes. So I want to give a preservation shout-out to Sophie (with full disclosure, Sophie is married to one of my former interns, Chris Lambert). Sophie is a graduate of the Preservation program at Columbia University, so is one of our own. Sophie also presented at our conference this year in Tulsa. “The development of LEED for Neighborhood Development speaks to the breadth of what
‘green building’ means,” says Sophie on the USGBC website. “What was once a rating system solely designed for commercial construction, LEED is now evolving beyond single buildings to address development at the neighborhood scale.” Public comment for LEED for Neighborhood Development opened on November 17 and will run until January 5, 2009. To view the LEED for Neighborhood Development draft and submit comments online, please visit the USGBC website. Anyone can comment during the public comment stage; you only need to be a member of USGBC for the final vote. Following the close of the 1st public comment period, the comments will be reviewed and then a second draft will be put out for public comment (just like LEED 2009). It is presumed that the final version of LEED ND will go out for member vote in the spring of 2009 so that it will be ready for market launch in the summer of 2009.

The LEED ND Rating System

LEED ND can be used on a single building, a Main Street, a community or even as a tool to retrofit suburbia. The pilot version opened for use in July 2007. The draft rating system was out for public comment in 2006/2007 and the National Trust was asked to review and comment which we did. During the pilot stage 239 projects were registered in 39 states and 6 countries. And during the pilot phase, many conflicts and issues have been identified. And some of these issues are specifically what USGBC asked us to comment on and assist with. I’m really pleased to announce that some of the biggest changes to the pilot version of LEED ND involves historic preservation and existing buildings. USGBC speakers acknowledged that during their Specialty Update on Wednesday at Greenbuild and thanked the National Trust for our assistance. I am going to focus on several of the changes, not all of them. I’m still reviewing the full draft, specifically the sections I wasn’t specifically involved in and expect that I will do additional blogs once I finish reviewing the whole draft. On the USGBC website you can download the original LEED ND redlined with the new changes, and you can download the clean new one. Both are useful to look at. It is especially useful to look at the redlined one if you haven’t read it before or been involved in a pilot project.

LEED ND has three categories: 1. Smart Locations & Linkages (SLL); 2. Neighborhood Pattern & Design (NPD) and 3. Green Infrastructure & Buildings (GIB). Historic preservation values are particularly addressed in NPD Credit 1 - Walkable Streets and GIB Credits 4 – Existing Building Reuse & 5 – Historic Building Preservation & Reuse. I will discuss these briefly in this posting.

The Revisions

There have been 5 major structural changes to LEED ND since the pilot version came out. 1. Alignment wherever possible with LEED 2009. Changing the scoring to 100 points is one way that that is being accomplished, as well as trying to use the same terminology wherever possible. And regional bonus credits have also been added like LEED 2009. 2. The credits have been weighted, not as complicated as the LCA system used for 2009, but weighting nonetheless. 3. Graphics have been added to clarify the descriptions. 4. USGBC has worked with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure that wherever possible the intents of each credit have been developed to reflect public health concerns and 5. Section 3, Green Construction & Technology has been fully reconsidered and even renamed as Green Infrastructure and Buildings. Extra teeth and requirements safeguarding existing and historic buildings have been provided. In total, 13 prerequisites have now been added, up from 3 in the pilot stage.

The strongest part of the revisions is the better alignment of terminology to use the agreed-upon and legal terminology and concepts as established in the National Historic Preservation Act and adopted and implemented by states and local jurisdictions across the country. The Secretary of the Interiors Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and Section 106 for example are all referenced.

NPD Prerequisite 1 – Walkable Streets

The concept behind walkable streets is a really sound, neighborhood design element. The major goal of this section is to promote walking, bicycling and transportation efficiency. This prerequisite, as well as the related Credit 1, provides guidelines for this. The prerequisite credit does provide for an exemption for historic districts if their historic design does not follow these guidelines. The actual verbiage is: Projects located in a designated historic district subject to review by a local historic preservation entity are exempt from b. and c. if approval is not granted for compliance. Projects located in historic districts listed in or eligible for listing in a State Register or the National Register or designated as National Historic Landmarks, that are subject to review by a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or the National Park Service, are exempt from b. and c. if approval is not granted for compliance.

Now normally I am against exemptions for historic buildings or neighborhoods, but here it makes sense.

Green Infrastructure & Building Credits 4 & 5: Existing Building Reuse & Historic Building Preservation & Reuse

The draft I saw actually gave a total of 4 points to these two credits. The final verbiage in this draft has cut them back to a total of 2 so I am a bit disappointed about that. However, points aside, these credits represent a much stronger recognition of historic preservation laws and concepts. The pilot version gave one point in one credit for keeping or reusing a historic building, and little of the recognized preservation terminology was used. The best part of both of these credits is a prerequisite that invalidates using either of these points if a historic building is demolished. The exact terminology reads: To achieve this credit, no historic building or portion of a historic building may be demolished as part of the project. An exception is granted only in instances where approval for such action is provided by the appropriate review body. For buildings listed locally, approval must be granted by the local historic preservation review board, or equivalent body. For buildings listed in a State Register or in the National Register of Historic Places, approval must appear in a programmatic agreement with the State Historic Preservation. I won’t quote verbatim all of the credits – please take a look at them yourself. I would be happier if the Prerequisite were one of the LEED ND prerequisites rather than just a prerequisite for these particular credits. It would still be possible, with this current construction, to demolish a historic building but just NOT go for either of these two credits. Now, I know you need to pick your battles, and the rewrite as it stands is 500% better than it was. But it is likely that this comment will be one of my primary comments on the draft.

So, that’s a quick intro and summary for now. I have one more LEED/Greenbuild posting which will be posted early next week. I expect to post my full comments on the entire draft sometime in the last two weeks of December (when I’m home for the holidays and have a little more time to review it in full.) Any questions or comments, always happy to hear from you,

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at

General, Green

6 Responses

  1. Kaid Benfield

    November 27, 2008

    Barbara, thank you so much for that excellent summary of LEED-ND, definitely one of the more thoughtful that I have seen. I hope we will get great input from your readers on the new draft standards. A good example of how the pilot system works to certify good development is on my own blog, for those who might be interested.

    I also want to give a note of thanks to all of the National Trust’s work on smart growth issues, and for taking the preservation movement beyond concern for individual buildings to concern for the context in which those buildings operate. It has been huge in the evolution of our broader movement. Constance Beaumont, when she was at the Trust, was one of my very first mentors on these issues, and I’m still honored to work frequently with many of your colleagues. Have a great holiday weekend.

    Kaid Benfield
    Director, Smart Growth, NRDC
    Co-founder, LEED for Neighborhood DEvelopment

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  4. Daniel Schwab

    December 4, 2008

    Dear Barabara,
    Thanks for this analysis of LEED ND. I am not an expert on the subject. I’d like a bit more over-arching analysis, and I have some questions on LEED ND. It seems good as far as it goes, in terms of reaching beyond the individual building, and having some concern for historic building. It seems that LEED ND is a very quantitative document, and I wonder if that is intentional, or whether there is room for play or augmentation. Urban design criteria seem to concern little the feel of the place. A lot of British policy guidance materials put emphasis on the QUALITIES of the place that cannot be summed up in numeric standards. Nowhere is mentioned a “sense of place” or the factors that work towards it, such “enclosure” or “ornament” for example. These are critical elements to creating walkable streets. They could be walkABLE in theory (you won’t get run over) but they might still ugly and unattractive, which does not suffice to make it a street that encourages walking.
    Then I wonder about the definition of sustainability being used. It seems to me rather narrow. Really old historic buildings are sustainable in that they are adaptive – they take on different uses and change their structure somewhat over long periods. For example the Music school in Luebeck Germany is seven hundred years old and has served many different functions. It will probably stand another 700 years, where other modernis buildings from the 1970s are already being demolished. Should not LEED ND therefore give strong focus to loveable buildings – buildings with soul that people will still want to look at in seven hundred years?
    Sustainability has as much to do with creating buildings that we can love, and that are adaptive as anything else. They must be beautiful and restorative – biophilic. These are just a few things that have come to mind. Perhaps I am off the mark. I appreciate any feedback.
    Daniel Schwab
    Student, The Evergreen State College

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