Neighborhood Development -- Planning for Sustainable Sites and Communities

By: Juliette Desfeux, Sustainable Building Consultant, Spinnaker Group
LEED AP (BD+C, ID+C and ND), EcoDistricts Accredited Professional

West Palm Beach, FL  (September 2020)
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 (see image at right) 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 amazing 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.

Conclusion
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.

Reach out to Spinnaker Group to learn why companies, municipalities, owners and AEC industry professionals work with our team (including on-staff Accredited Professionals in each of the disciplines outlined in this article) to tap our ever-increasing expertise in neighborhood development.

This article was also featured on the Sustainable SITES Initiative website (click here) 
and USGBC Florida's website (click here).