Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

The Hot White Line of LEED-ND

Dateline: 9:16 am October 15, 2010 Filed under:

In a 2005 article I wrote about LEED-ND for Urban Land magazine, Doug Farr, an architect and urban designer and founder of Farr Associates in Chicago, discussed the “hot white line” where walkable urban areas meet the sprawling, auto-dependent world. Now that LEED-ND is “real,” it is worth noting exactly where that “hot white line” can be found.

Take for example the work of a colleague of mine, Brendon Slotterback. On his website, he analyses what areas of the Twin Cities would be qualified for the location efficient prerequisites of LEED-ND. Take Brendon’s great work, apply it to your metro area, and you will find broad swaths of urbanized areas that are not urban enough.

Alas, the hot white line. (It is worth noting the existing buildings with a LEED certification located in places that would not qualify for LEED-ND, and conversely, the infill developments with fantastic location efficiencies that previously did not qualify for LEED certification but now are LEED-ND candidates.)

Brendon’s work is sheds light on where opportunities are. Most greenfield sites, places slated for future development to occur, are not eligible for LEED-ND because they lack connectivity and transit service that is key to greener development. No doubt, there are innumerable infill sites, but the density required is a major political obstacle. Brendon found that few areas outside the two core Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have comprehensive plans that call for suffcient density (at least seven units per acre) to qualify. Layer on street networks that can accomodate alternatives to the automobile, and there are suburban opportunities for LEED-ND, but it is still far easier to achieve in the core cities where sidewalks and the grid are the rule, not the exception.

At a recent LEED-ND roundtable sponsored by New Urbanism Minnesota, we discussed simply the location prerequisites, i.e., the Hot White Line.” For example, LEED-ND projects must have at least 90 intersections per square mile (see Kaid Benfield’s discussion of Cervero and Ewing’s study on the matter here), 50% of dwelling units must be within a quarter mile of a well-served transit stop, and get credit for being within a quarter mile of five diverse uses, one of which must be food retail. Wow, I have to suspect that hot white line actually rules out a lot more locations than Brendon’s analysis indicates.

Michael Lander, local urbanist in Minneapolis, puts it this way. “LEED-ND is directing development to where it should be versus reforming what is wrong.” Alas, there is no shortage of existing development worthy of some sort of reform, but as Doug Farr put it in the 2005 Urban Land article, LEED-ND is about doing “enough of the right things.” Quite simply, that means good buildings in good locations. I believe it is worth setting the bar high, but now we get to see exactly how LEED-ND performs and what gets built.

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