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A LEED-certified neighborhood

Updated: October 20, 2015 - 1:09 pm

(This feature is part of our Loring Park neighborhood spotlight guide.)  

The Loring Park neighborhood is in the process of becoming a LEED-certified neighborhood. Typically you think of buildings when it comes to LEED certification — a designation that stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. It’s a program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Here are highlights of a recent interview with John Van Heel, a member of the Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLCP) who has spearheaded the application process.

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Q: What does it mean to be a LEED-certified neighborhood? 

Van Heel: It means that the neighborhood has documented its compliance of a minimum number of credits required for recognition for certification by the U.S.-based and internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Loring Park’s certification is based within the program’s Neighborhood Development sub division (LEED-ND). It will be certified as a stand alone National Case Study Pilot Project based on Existing Neighborhoods. The current LEED-ND program was initially developed as a set of environment and energy efficiency standards for new neighborhood developments. Because of this there are requirements that are impractical for existing neighborhoods like Loring Park, which is mostly fully developed. The pilot project will provide information for the US. Green Building Council, which oversee the program, in order to make decisions about future development of its LEED program for the purpose of offering existing neighborhoods a better LEED-based option for establishing environmental standards for their community.

Q: Why is that an important process for the neighborhood to go through? 

Our LEED certification is connected to the development of the Loring Park Neighborhood Master Plan. Sustainability was established as a priority in the early development of the plan. The word “sustainability” by itself is fuzzy and not very useful. The LEED-ND program provided a verifiable, scientifically based system that the community could use to measure the neighborhood’s current sustainability in specific areas that included quality of pedestrian and bike infrastructure, protection of water bodies and energy efficiency. It was then used to help set priorities for plan recommendations. Finally, it was used to establish goals, which included verifiable measures that can be used to confirm success.  

The neighborhood developed partnerships with the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chapter of the USGBC. With their assistance and with volunteer help two dozen credit areas were documented in an initial study. That information was used to identify areas where the neighborhood did well, things that the community can use to build on. And, as a way to identify areas where we didn’t do so well, things that the neighborhood address in order to improve.

Q: What does the designation mean for the future of Loring Park? 

The LEED program and LEED certification is a tool. The significance of certification will depend on the extent to which it is used. Today I think it means that we have community members who have a better, more concrete understanding of what sustainability means in an urban setting like Loring Park. We have a citizenry who will push for sustainable development and a city-adopted master plan that backs us up. Last, the LEED certification is like the Good Housekeeping Seal. It is something we can use to promote the neighborhood. It is also something that the community can simply be proud of.   

Q: Are there any other neighborhoods locally applying for the LEED-ND certification? 

There are a couple of other certified projects across the country that involve smaller portions of an existing neighborhood (none other, I believe, for existing neighborhoods in this area). Loring Park would be the first entire existing neighborhood ever certified. Outside of doing a pilot project like in Loring Park the program is not currently practical to undertake for other entire existing neighborhoods due to prohibitive fees that are based on project acreage plus verification rules that are impractical to implement in large part due to the diversity of land ownerships in a dense urban neighborhood. For more existing neighborhoods to utilize LEED, the program will need to evolve. I am hopeful that the Loring Park Neighborhood has helped to make that happen.