Beyond Green Buildings

MattBerggren's picture

In a recent article on, Joshua Prince-Ramus, Randolph Croxton, and Tuomas Toivonen talk about the importance of thinking beyond building "green" buildings. Although it is important to build buildings that have the least amount of environmental impact as possible, if those buildings are in the middle of no where, requiring workers or residents to travel many miles by car to reach them, then they are not as sustainable as they claim. In order to actually be green, we need to start building our buildings in urban cores again. We need to move away from suburban sprawl.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which created the LEED system for determining how green a building is, recently teamed up with CNU to create a system for determing how green an entire neighborhood is. LEED-ND, LEED for Neighborhood Design, looks at both the development's design as well as its location to determine how green it is.

However, we need to go further than this. We must incentivise smart growth. The following are strategies the authors recommend to encourage building in dense areas:

• Establish growth boundaries between city and nature that allow both to reach their full potential. Cities become more dense, diverse and efficient, while nature and farmland are protected against sprawl. Seemingly radical, growth boundaries are not a new idea in the United States. For example, the Urban Growth Boundaries established by the State of Oregon in 1973 have yielded more than 30 years of smart, sustainable development in cities such as Portland.

• Create regional and nationwide marketplaces that allow rural and suburban landowners outside growth boundaries to transfer their development rights to areas where urban growth is desirable. Again, while seemingly radical, this strategy has already been implemented since the 1980s in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to stem the destruction of Amish farmland and heritage.

• Develop a national ecological balance plan that steers development at the scale of buildings, infrastructure and ecosystem services through a comprehensive framework of guidelines and indicators.

• Devise a quantitative indicator that analyzes and coordinates population density, programmatic diversity and low-carbon travel. This metric would provide policy makers, planners, developers and citizens with a common understanding of the underlying patterns that shape their community's carbon footprint, and inform consensus-driven systemic action, such as the drawing of growth boundaries.

• Develop new types of urban structures that, by design, can adapt to a rich variety of unanticipated uses and accommodate new construction technologies as they evolve. This new class of structures would engender the organic, heterogeneous evolution that originally shaped America's cities.

Without incentives, there will by nothing to abate the spread of suburban sprawl.


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