Date of Award


Document Type

Terminal Project

Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning (MCRP)


Planning and Landscape Architecture


Dr. Clifford Ellis

Committee Member

Professor Stephen L. Sperry


Significance of LEED-ND in city and regional planning in the United States

Municipal planning in the United States has seen a rise in the use of computer-based technology to solve unique and complex urban problems in the twenty-first century. One such technology that is becoming widely and more effectively utilized is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). At the same time, many communities are realizing the value of sustainable urban design principles such as those encouraged by the recent Smart Growth and New Urbanism movements. Conventional single-use zoning mechanisms are regularly being revised to add more flexible mixed-use and Planned Unit Development (PUD) designations, or replaced altogether with Form-based Codes. Transit-oriented developments (TOD) now emphasize the need for higher density developments to support public transit, and nearly all sustainable design advocates emphasize infill and efficient site locations to reduce the effects of sprawl, among other benefits. One response to the growing sustainability trend among city planners is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) new LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) Rating System. This voluntary rating system is a design standard that combines the flexibility of PUDs and Form-based Codes with the power of GIS to direct future development toward urban centers and communities that desire growth, while avoiding environmentally sensitive areas.

LEED for Neighborhood Development may not be a household name just yet, even for city planners, but there is still reason to believe that the rating system’s impact will be substantial. The Smart Growth Manual (2010), a boiled down version of Duany et. al.’s earlier book Suburban Nation (2001) was written as a pocket manual for developers and planners to quickly reference during any discussion on smart growth practices, such as during a privately held design meeting or at a public hearing. The intentionally concise manual allocates an entire page within the “Neighborhood” chapter to LEED-ND, audaciously stating, “It is expected that LEED-ND will become a municipal standard for controlling the urban design of large-scale development” (Duany et. al., 2010, p. 6.8). As a voluntary design standard, LEED-ND should never be mandated in the private sector; USGBC has made this clear. Rather, what Duany et al. presumably means by “control” is the idea that the rating system can be used by local governments as a flexible planning tool to promote and encourage sustainable development. City planners can easily evaluate their own municipal regulations for barriers to sustainable development; can create sustainable development-based incentive programs; and can identify publicly owned lands for potential development—possibly through public-private partnerships—thus, showcasing the benefits of sustainable design to the community.

The flexibility of the LEED-ND rating system allows it to be applied in its entirety in pursuit of project certification, or individual components may be referenced to inform less comprehensive decision-making. Since the LEED-ND Pilot was first launched in 2007, sixty-five projects have received some level of LEED-ND certification, and over fifty projects have already registered under the official LEED-ND 2009 rating system which was launched in April of 2010. Since its inception, evidence has slowly been accumulating to indicate that LEED-ND will succeed as another LEED certification program. The biggest vote of confidence to date happened in May of 2010, when Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced that HUD would begin using the Smart Location requirements of LEED-ND to score the location-efficiency of grant applications (Prepared remarks for CNU 18, May 21, 2010). The new funding policy marked the first time in history that HUD has used location-efficiency to rank grant applications, and the echoing endorsement of LEED-ND by the Chicago Housing Authority and various county and city planning departments around the country further validates its relevance in public policy.