Home Blog LEED Neighborhoods: from Theory to Practice – Part 1 | Walkability

LEED Neighborhoods: from Theory to Practice – Part 1 | Walkability

Posted in Blog on Friday, September 28th, 2012 at 3:42 pm 2 Comments
LEED Neighborhoods: from Theory to Practice – Part 1 | Walkability

Contributed by Jonathan Burgess, LEED AP ND & BD+C
LEED Project Manager, The Spinnaker Group

LEED for Neighborhood Development has long been coined the ‘next evolution’ in LEED, promoting the fundamentals of green building, urbanism and sustainable development at a community-wide scale. LEED-ND promotes highly walkable, compact mixed-use developments on previously developed land in existing urban centers.

But is LEED-ND practical or even realistic here in the Sunshine State? Over the next several entries we will examine the LEED for Neighborhood Development program and its applicability in Florida to see just how easy it really is to take LEED-ND from theory into practice.

Part 1: Walkability

Florida is widely known for its sprawling gated communities connected to big-box anchored strip malls through its vast network of 6-10 lane highways. Suburban corporate parks pop up between low-rise residential and just about every restaurant chain imaginable, with each use blocked off by large walls and landscape buffers. Much of what was originally the Florida Everglades has been drained to provide single-family planned-unit developments dozens of miles away from the historical urban cores in which many of those same people maintain office space.

Many of the older canopy trees lining our streets are routinely cut down to avoid potential conflicts with utilities, leaving sidewalks and bike lanes unshaded and mostly unused. Those few folks who brave the 10-mile bike ride to work — under the powerful Florida sun and oftentimes through blighted neighborhoods — find themselves sweat-drenched and without proper shower/changing facilities inside their office complexes. The fortunate souls with showers at their offices or at nearby gyms still find themselves trapped from a bicycle commute home with the very probable chance of an afternoon rainstorm. What’s an avid cyclist / employee to do?

That’s our reality here in South Florida. So what’s the solution?

Location. Location. Location. Plus shade and showers don’t hurt.

LEED for Neighborhood Development was designed to encourage a close proximity of housing and jobs. Amongst many other benefits, shorter commutes mean greater chance for walking or biking to work. In urban areas, mixed-use infill projects on previously developed land help cluster housing and employment opportunities. Existing suburban areas not appropriate for the LEED-ND program can still benefit by employing Sprawl Repair techniques being championed by local new urbanists like Andres Duany and Galina Tachieva.

Interconnectivity is another driving force of walkability. Compact developments in interconnected, walkable blocks give people the choice to walk between uses. Large landscape buffers and walled-in property lines force people out onto the roadway to drive next door. When buffers and walls are required by local zoning code, provide pedestrian gates and walkways between uses. Or change the code to allow connectivity between uses.

Even here in sunny Florida, all you need for a comfortable walking experience are ‘trees and breeze’. Streets lined with shade trees limit exposure to the elements and reduce the heat island effect, extending the distance people will walk comfortably. Consult with a local Landscape Architect on how to avoid conflicts with utilities while still being able to provide the much needed shade along your street. Permeable paving, removable pavers, root barriers and urban tree wells are all great ways to reduce the conflicts between trees and infrastructure.

No showers or changing rooms at your office? What about a nearby gym? Many companies are striking agreements with gyms and other establishments within walking distance to encourage their employees to bike into work. Active employees are productive employees. Biking to work also cuts down on employee travel costs, meaning more money in the wallet. More money in the wallet means a happier employee, and happy employees are productive employees.

Now, having addressed the importance of location, interconnectivity, shaded streets and employee comfort: the last question to remain is how to deal with these pesky daily afternoon rainstorms:

You’re in Florida, always bring an umbrella.

LEED for Neighborhood Development is a collaboration between the Congress for the New Urbanism, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the US Green Building Council — LEED-ND certification provides independent, third-party verification that a development’s location and design meet accepted high levels of environmentally responsible, sustainable development. For more information on LEED-ND please contact the author at jonathan@thespinnakergroupinc.com or 401-465-8250.

  • Jessica

    Great article Jonathan! I agree about all of your points, inparticular the ones regarding trees for shade and connectivity.  

  • WG

    Well written observation!

    I live in Central Florida, in  Brevard county, and this is exactly how it is
    here! Walkability in the streets is 0. What I noticed is there are no good
    biking paths or shading, this area has wonderful beaches yet they are not well accommodated
    with biking pathways, or water fountains, and walkways under shade . It seems
    like the whole city was designed around cars rather than people. I would love
    to see more people walking around to run their errands instead of using cars,
    its healthier, and greener, but I believe the walking culture will  only grow in people once there is a good mass
    transit system, and somehow shopping centers get more mixed with residential.