Livability and LEED-ND: The Challenges and Successes of Sustainable Neighborhood Rating Systems

by Szibbo, Nicola Alexandra, Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, 2015, 216 pages; 3720855


A rating system known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development, LEED-ND, was developed in 2007 to assess sustainability at the neighborhood scale. Although at this time LEED for buildings is a well-known and well-established program in the United States, LEED for Neighborhood Development is less widely recognized since it was developed in 2007 as compared to LEED for buildings. LEED-ND requires that certified developments meet credit areas in three main categories: a) smart location and linkage (SLL), b) neighborhood pattern and design (NPD), and c) green infrastructure and buildings (GIB). LEED-ND goes above and beyond singularly requiring sustainable mobility, traditional neighborhood design, or green building; rather, it incorporates the above three categories into a single rating system. To date, prior LEED rating systems (New Construction and Existing Buildings) have focused on the building scale, as have most critiques of such metrics. Few authors have ventured to analyze the neighborhood rating system with the exception of Garde (2009) and Ewing et al. (2013) and Sharifi and Murayama (2013), who have only used only secondary scorecard data and other aggregated data to assess the success or predict outcomes of LEED-ND neighborhoods. No post-occupancy studies have been conducted to date that take into consideration the resident’s perception and stated preferences. Additionally, no studies have examined in detail the provision of affordable housing within LEED-ND developments.

LEED-ND has been rapidly adopted as the de-facto green neighborhood standard and is now used to measure the sustainability of neighborhood design around the world. Like the previous LEED green building rating systems, LEED-ND is heavily reliant on physical & environmental design criteria (measures such as compact urban form and transit accessibility), and is based on an expert-generated point system. LEED-ND thus excels in measuring ‘environmental sustainability’ through its stringent environmental performance criteria. However, it fails to critically address important livability factors—namely social and economic factors—and there has not been a critical examination of how to properly weigh the various factors in response to user preferences. Scholars have emphasized that the major weakness of sustainable development agendas, emphasizing that although assessment of environmental sustainability is quite thorough, often sustainable development projects fail to adequately address or operationalize social and economic sustainability. Ultimately, creating metrics for social and economic sustainability is more complicated than developing metrics for environmental sustainability, which can be reduced to direct built environment performance measures. At the neighborhood scale, socio-cultural and socio-economic concerns—such as affordable housing—become magnified for residents. Accordingly, this dissertation argues that socio-cultural and socio-economic factors and user preferences require a more significant foothold in neighborhood scale rating systems, if such systems purport to fully support all three tiers of sustainability: social, economic and environmental (Wheeler 2004). Specifically, this study examines affordable housing as a proxy for social equity and social sustainability in LEED-ND neighborhoods, and determines the extent to which principles of social sustainability are being upheld.

This dissertation advances the emerging field of sustainable neighborhood rating systems, by illustrating and evaluating a significant gap in current sustainable neighborhood evaluation systems. Cutting across planning, landscape architecture, architecture, psychology and sociology in both Canada and the US, the study critically questions the LEED-ND rating system as the epitome of sustainable development. This dissertation illustrates that in order to be truly sustainable, developments must consider social-cultural and socio-economic livability factors alongside environmental factors, including post-occupancy evaluation. This dissertation also asks the question if social equity and affordability issues can be singularly addressed by a voluntary, market-based rating system, or if a broader range of strategies is needed to ensure the provision of affordable housing in new sustainable developments. Ultimately, this study provides recommendations to improve the rating system, with a specific focus on affordable housing.

AdviserElizabeth Macdonald
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSustainability; Architecture; Urban planning
Publication Number3720855

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