The LEED for Neighborhood Development standard was unveiled as a pilot program in 2007 by a collaborative group of nonprofits: the National Resources Defense Council, Congress for The New Urbanism, and the United States Green Building Council.

Similar in ambition and execution to GBCA’s Green Star – Communities program, LEED-ND provides a framework for “greener” development on a neighbourhood scale. Thanks to the different missions of the principles involved in its genesis, LEED-ND combines elements of green building, New Urbanism, and smart growth.

In addition to creating standards for growth and land use, the founders of LEED-ND also envisioned a standard that invites community members to use it. To that end, the NRDC published A Citizen’s Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development.

As the guide states, “LEED-ND is not just a certification system for green projects but also a ready-made set of environmental standards for land development. They can be useful to anyone interested in using them to make that development better.”

The program is composed of three main themes that developers, local governments, and citizens can apply to projects:

Smart Location and Linkage: Where to Build

This is the smart growth section and delves into what makes a smart location, such as infill sites and brownfields. LEED-ND awards points for projects that are sensitive to the natural world, such as wetlands, floodplains, and farmland. Connected neighbourhoods, those that maintain convenient access both within and outside the neighbourhood, are encouraged, and the public transit credits encourage transit-oriented development to lessen individual auto use in favor of transit use, bicycling, and walking.

Neighborhood Pattern and Design: What to Build

This includes core elements of New Urbanist design and features sections that award credits for efficient land use such as compact neighbourhood design, building diversity into neighborhoods with multiple types of housing and businesses, and creating walkable streets that are appealing to pedestrians. Projects can earn credits for strategies that reduce parking and transportation demand, such as encouraging car sharing and leasing parking spots separately from dwelling spaces. Bike-friendly design elements such as dedicated bike lanes and bike trails are encouraged, as are mixed-use neighbourhoods that combine a variety of business, residential, recreation, and government functions.

Green Infrastructure and Buildings: How To Manage Environmental Impacts

This specifically addresses the buildings and their sites in a neighbourhood. Projects can earn credits for energy- and water-efficient buildings, reusing older buildings, and cooling techniques like tree-lined streets and reducing the area of surface parking lots. In addition, credits are available for neighborhood-scale energy efficiency measures such as passive solar orientation and photovoltaic panels. Recycling and reuse points include incorporating recycled materials such as old tires into asphalt, developing a community composting program, and building graywater systems.

Besides being a rating system that developers and local governments can use formally, LEED-ND can also aid local and citizen groups involved in the planning and development processes in their cities. Also, though LEED-ND has been used primarily for directing and rewarding new development that is environmentally more responsible than average, the program does address and apply to existing neighbourhoods.

One challenge with applying LEED-ND to existing neighbourhoods is the incremental nature of change compared to large-scale suburban developments. Kaid Benfield, author and blogger at the Natural Resources Defense Council, worked on creating the LEED-ND standard. He has written that though imperfect, the program offers clear benefits to community leaders.

In particular, even if the group doesn’t seek formal certification, evaluating an existing neighborhood against the LEED-ND standards will give citizens a more accurate picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the neighbourhood. Citizens and groups can undertake their own community audit, or partner with the city, to evaluate and then devise a plan.

The Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, is one example of LEED-ND in use. Once a thriving part of the city, the neighbourhood had suffered over the last several decades as residents moved to the growing suburbs, and investment in the area plummeted. The nonprofit Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation worked with neighbourhood residents in using LEED-ND to guide its transition from distressed area into one of growth. Projects included extensive rehabilitation of existing homes, new LEED-certified homes, community gardens, pocket parks, rain gardens, and street striping and traffic calming projects.