Your author is a couple of days away from a long-delayed honeymoon — sorry ladies, but this insulation obsessive is taken — and mentally is maybe already kind of on the airplane, listening to Italian language mp3s and trying to remember a language I only faintly knew when last I was ostensibly able to speak it. This has made more of an impact on my day-job productivity here at Elegran than it has in my gbNYC blogging, but as I find myself trying to come up with a dutiful gbNYC post on, say, Cushman & Wakefield’s new LEED Gold Midtown Manhattan headquarters, I’m finding it kind of difficult. So let’s just do that post now, quickly, and get on to the fun stuff — or fun for me, at least. So: Cushman & Wakefield’s new headquarters has been certified LEED Gold, and features day-lighting and a ton of locally sourced materials. Also Cushman & Wakefield had a really terrible year last year, so their commitment to green development is maybe a bit more admirable. Okay, cool, let’s talk about LEED for Neighborhood Development.
In the context of green building and sustainable development in New York City, LEED-ND might be a bit on the redundant side of things. While there have been some interesting LEED-ND rumblings in New York City — most notably the awesome story of LEED-ND certified Melrose Commons neighborhood in the Bronx, which was a very cool and kind of inspiring collaboration between community group Nos Quedamos and Magnusson Architecture — most of New York City’s neighborhoods are both too entrenched and too inherently green to need much in the way of USGBC-issued commemorative plaques. The inherent greenness in New York City’s dense, compact and rampantly mixed-use nature is a subject that I’ve written about again and again. But despite its hellacious population density, the ocean of sprawl surrounding New York City is kind of vexing for green building people. There’s no shortage of laudable green buildings and government initiatives in both Long Island and New Jersey, but both the New York and New Jersey suburbs of New York City face an inherent inefficiency — by dint of their car-dependent, sprawliness — that matches NYC’s inherent efficiency in its stubbornness. There aren’t enough solar panels in the world to make New Jersey a truly sustainable place as long as everyone has to drive everywhere, is what I’m saying.
But there have been signs, in Long Island especially, that a deeper and more intelligent understanding of what we might call suburban urbanism is taking hold. But while suburbs are the most obvious example of terrible planning, the problem of dislocated, uncentered and car-dependent (and thus hugely un-green) communities are also an issue in cities that are by their nature less dense than New York City. Which, you know, would be just about any city. There have been some notable success stories — though not necessarily ones spearheaded by LEED-ND, which isn’t even three years old yet and is still in pilot mode — already in creating walkable, mixed-use communities where once there was only a vast idiocy of isolating sprawl. At the National Resource Defense Council’s Switchboard blog, Kaid Benfield writes about the LEED-ND Gold redevelopment of Rockville, MD’s Twinbrook Station neighborhood (he also did a nice write-up on Melrose Commons back in January). Even USA Today, one of the best working definitions of “mainstream” in our culture, has gotten on board with LEED-ND. Their precis on the benefits of intelligent density is about as concise as anyone could ask for: “By locating stores, restaurants and services close to homes and encouraging people to walk more, such developments lower the risk of obesity, heart disease and hypertension, improve mental health and reduce air pollution, according to a review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Which: yes. That. That sounds great.
Again, this is the sort of thing that New Yorkers already enjoy without having to work for it. But while not everyone is up for NYC-grade density — even your author isn’t always up for it, especially when riding the train during rush hour — commonsense urban planning laws, like the Complete Streets Bill that just cleared the New York State Senate, can do a lot to make life in places that aren’t New York City greener, more convenient and more communal. The goal of LEED-ND isn’t to make more communities more like New York — there’d be a bodega clause or something in there if it were — and like all LEED initiatives it probably warrants some skepticism. But while we’ll chide LEED’s relentless quest for new ways to expand its brand and find new things to certify, the very idea of LEED-ND — its ambition, and especially its scale — makes it both laudable and, for the time being, gbNYC crush-worthy. We’ll be writing about it more in the future, for sure, and I welcome any suggestions on reading material you might want to share either in the comments or via email.