LEED for Neighbourhoods (ND): Open For Comments

The new LEED Neighbourhood (ND) rating system that has been in pilot since 2007 was posted for comment yesterday. There have been many critics of the LEED rating system, but the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) ability to respond constructively has helped it to continued to play a transformative role in the construction and realestate markets.

Early versions of LEED applied only to individual buildings. Ignoring issues like land-use, density, and transportation produced uncomfortable contradictions. You could build a new building on a flood plain at the outskirts of town, miles from the nearest public transit line, and still get LEED gold if you did the numbers right. Even more familiar are the LEED certified landmark buildings that totally ignore their surroundings. The focus on individual buildings also ignored the fact that it's not buildings, but systems of buildings that offer some of the best opportunities for innovative high-efficiency design.

District heating and cooling, distributed generation grids, walkable mixed-use communities... all those things take place at a neighbourhood level. If we are going to build sustainable cities in any real way, not just put up a few flashy exceptions to business-as-usual, we've got to work at the neighbourhood scale.

The new LEED (ND) system looks promising because it begins to take these and other variables into account. As the most widely recognized brand for ranking sustainable buildings -- and now settlements more generally -- LEED is hugely important. It really defines what "sustainability" is for many buyers and builders. If their rankings don't correspond to the seriousness of the problem, then a lot of us will be left tilting at windmills. So get your comments in! The USGBC will be accepting submissions until January 5th. All the details are here.

(images from: starrynightlights.com)

Electric Mobility Charging Stations

I blogged earlier about the roll-out of trial charging stations in a variety of cities. If you were wondering what the charge points might look like, here are some photos from my trip down to Portland.
The recycled tire as lampshade is a nice touch:Photos courtesy of Lunatica. Read more...

The New American Republic: Efficiency Is Infrastructure

Micheal Lind has an interesting piece in Salon.com arguing that Obama's presidency augurs the beginning of a new American Republic; the refounding of the nation driven by drastic changes in the economy and technology. The second republic, begun under Lincoln, saw the transition from farm animals to the steam engine and railroads, for Roosevelt's third republic it was the spread of both electricity and the internal combustion engine.

In both cases these transitions meant the beginning of a new era of economic modernization driven by state spending on infrastructure and economic modernization. The question, for Lind, is what new technologies will form the foundation for this new American Age. In the short term that means asking, what will the new president spend money on in his plans to rebuild America's infrastructure?

But it's not just about the US. The combined economic and infrastructure crisis have spurred spending both here in Canada, and around the globe. In that context I want to make an obvious but important point : Efficiency is Infrastructure. Lind asks what the future holds: " Nuclear? Solar? Clean coal?" All of those are yesterday's answers (or red herrings) and have the familiar big government bias for big investments in monumental projects. The major shift that we need to see is one where we move away from major capital investments in large single projects to ones that increase the efficiency of the multiple systems that we already have.

Clearly money is going to have to go into crumbling roads and bridges. We know how to do that. But the real challenge is going to be figuring out how to tap into the millions of smaller targets (the energy hungry homes, offices and factories that fill our landscape) and turn those into targets for infrastructure spending. Again and again we've seen that efficiency is miles cheaper than building new generation facilities. Given our wasteful past, the economic and employment potential of the efficiency sector is huge. And every dollar spent on efficiency means less money spent on imported energy and more money that stays in the local economy.

Efficiency retrofits are only a sliver of what we need to do to respond to meet our pressing environmental crisis. But if we want to get closer to a solution, we need to recognize that efficiency retrofits deserve infrastructure dollars just as much as bridge repair. Otherwise there is a real danger that we'll wake up a few years down the line and realize we've spent all our money and have nothing to show for it but more asphalt and overpasses. Read more...


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.