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LEED-ND has value even when certification is out of reach

Designers take the road less traveled with neighbourhood development approach in Medicine Hat

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The stamp of approval granted through LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development) certification is not always easy to attain.

Small municipalities often can’t meet the prerequisite requirements of LEED-ND, even if interested in the LEED-ND system. This is often due to conditions outside an applicant’s immediate control, such as density, adjacent land uses and transit requirements.

Rather than be discouraged by this and shrugging off the neighbourhood development matrix as useless to a municipality, some urban designers are taking a different approach.

Together with the City of Medicine Hat, Lisa Konopski, Brier Reid, and a team at Urban Systems’ Calgary branch realized they could still use the decades of work and research that went into the development of LEED-ND for an ongoing community planning project with the City of Medicine Hat.

“If a subject site does not meet all 12 LEED ND prerequisites, many people see it as the end of the road: ‘This system is not for us. Let’s move on,’” says Lisa Konopski, environmental designer.

Instead the team chose to focus on the parts that were relevant to the size, context and stage of their project and used the details, calculations and metrics in those LEED-ND prerequisites to the fullest.

LEED-ND is a more recent addition to the LEED family of certification programs that takes the larger neighbourhood into account rather than just an individual property. Instead of working to certify an individual home as “green,” for instance, LEED-ND considers things like modes of transportation for getting in and out of neighbourhoods and how various metrics impact quality of life and well-being.

Sensitive lands protection, public health, social equity and water resource efficiency are among its key themes.

Because of the complexity and challenges associated with achieving LEED-ND certification, some professionals do not think the rating system is applicable in most projects. But by taking a different approach, one that involves using LEED ND as a resource tool instead of a “get it or forget it” goal, Lisa says the benefits of using the tool are multiplying for the planning team and the municipality.

The environmental designer recently shared key insights with other industry professionals at an APPI (Alberta Professional Planning Institute) lunch event in Calgary. A client representative from Medicine Hat drove in to participate and answer questions about their experience.

Lisa and Brier, a planner and engineer in training, make a point of giving credit to the City of Medicine Hat in their presentation for taking an out-of -the-box approach to project development.

The structure of the City’s Land and Properties Department also lends itself to unconventional planning. Since it is both a land developer and a city department, Land and Properties has interests in both developing land for profit, and in the full life cycle of new developments.

The Urban Systems team is now working to develop a sustainability matrix specific to Medicine Hat that integrates relevant indicators from LEED-ND, other related precedents, and pieces of internal sustainability information the city has already developed. The tool can then become part of the municipality’s framework for various stages of development approvals and reviews.

“It’s exciting that from this one little project, we have developed a relationship with the City on something that will help shape future development in Medicine Hat for decades to come,” Lisa says.

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