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LEED in Dallas, Texas Focuses on Buildings, Lacks Neighborhood Sustainability

Can urbanism separate itself from the imperative of climate change?

In North Texas, walkable areas become oases of activity in the expanse of suburban development. Areas such as The Shops at Legacy in Plano, and the Uptown area inside Dallas city limits, are examples of popular high-density mixed use development.

While these areas conserve land and attract street life, do they get the credit they deserve for addressing sustainability issues? Is there merit to marketing authentic sustainability in terms of urban development? The building industry accounts for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and environmental design has been revolutionary in not only decreasing its environmental impact, but improving tenant experience. Spearheaded mostly by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems; the voluntary framework has become the predominant rating standard for "green" buildings in the US, influencing both market and government standards. Whether designing new construction or retrofitting an existing structure, the system allows builders to receive credit for environmentally-friendly choices in individual building designs. However, while the system tackles the important issue of a highly-impactful industry, can its success be considered without the context of these individual buildings?  

The Shops at Legacy, Plano, Texas

LEED's New Construction rating system includes credits to promote density, cycling, and proximity to public transportation. However, coupling its optional inclusion in a project's plan with a common lack of cultural familiarity with biking transport and dense, walkable areas, the building standard's focus is decidedly set on individual buildings.

The less popular Neighborhood Development LEED rating system acts to satisfy some of the areas "New Construction" overlooks; however there is a noticeable gap in incentives to build sustainability in at the infrastructure level.

The Dallas area currently has three LEED Neighborhood Development projects in progress, including nearly five hundred certified structures within its proper city limits – predominantly Habitat for Humanity buildings.

As Dallas continues to grow at one of the fastest rates in the country, builders are increasingly trying to distinguish themselves with a LEED-certified building. However, without attention to sustainable development for the region as a whole, individual "green" buildings will not be enough to create sustainable development.

LEED Gold, Dallas Trinity Auduobon Center, Texas

Photo credit: Michael Lyon via USGBC NTX

Is your city making any choices to develop sustainably? Do you think there will be a standard for holistic sustainable development, beyond individual buildings?

Credits: Image by Christine Cepelak. Data linked to sources.