The Green Column #24

But Wait A Minute, Will It Be Sustainable?

April 3, 2010—One of the criteria for determining whether a community is becoming, or has achieved a stature of, a “sustainable community” is its willingness to engage in open and accessible civil, civic debate over the appropriation of its resources—be they environmental, human/social capital, technologies, economic and financial, or conditions of government and policy. These are the principal commodities that we have at our disposal with which to make and sustain our community in accord with some collective view of our shared future.

The application of these resources should be—must be—debated, but from positions of fact. There should be as much “sunshine” and transparency shed upon the range of the community’s opportunities and interests as possible.

It is interesting, timely, and exceedingly healthy for this community to bring issues of sustainability to the discourse over the pros and cons of a new arena for the City of Lincoln. Every major capital improvement or growth and expansion project should have the benefit of such deliberations.

In the current state of the arena debates, however, there have been some “pronouncements” about certain green and/or sustainable conditions that need some clarification.

I offer two, in particular: first, “An arena, by its nature as a building cannot be sustainable.”, and second, “The conditions of the proposed site, specifically flood plain and soil contamination, will keep the entire project from being sustainable.”

In the first instance, there is ample evidence to disprove the broad assumption that an arena, simply by the condition of its size and operations cannot be designed and constructed in a green and sustainable manner. The US Green Building Council has announced two arena projects that have recently met its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for certification as green buildings. One in Atlanta, the Philips Arena, and a second in Miami, the American Airlines Arena have both sufficiently met the design and construction standards to be certified by the USGBC.

Denver claims that its Pepsi Center, home of the Denver Nuggets is the first arena in America to achieve “100 Per Cent Green” status.

Additionally, the USGBC has announced that there are 139 municipal or college and university arena facilities that have registered with intentions to achieve some level of certification in the LEED program.

To meet LEED building standards will require designed conditions such as operating energy efficiencies and use of alternative carbon-free energy sources, choices of materials that are produced from recycled or renewable resources, reduction of energy requirements by the manner in which the building is sited and the building envelope is constructed, conservation of water uses, and overall long-term green maintenance and operations policies. A building type such as an arena even presents an interesting opportunity to gain extra green credits if it can generate more energy than it will consume.

The architects for the preliminary design of the arena building have conducted detailed evaluations with city development and building and safety officials regarding the intent to design the project with these and other attributes as a green, sustainable facility.

In the second instance, the LEED standards provide criteria for the design goals and standards of performance for not only the building as a single construction, but also for the conditions, new or existing, of the surrounding community context. In other words, what designs must be executed to make the project harmonize with the environmental, social, and economic conditions already present around the proposed site?

Or, where the project may be intended to be a part of, or a catalyst for, other new and redeveloped elements of the community environment, what designs must be executed in the surrounding neighborhood to accomplish a green district? Such is the case for Lincoln’s proposed project, the West Haymarket Integrated Development Plan, re:

The USGBC offers both the LEED Standards for New Construction (LEED NC), discussed above, and a broader set of guidelines referred to as LEED Standards for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) for the evaluation of the greenness of such projects.

The architects who have assembled the preliminary designs for the West Haymarket development have already charted the project in accord with the LEED ND standards (see the above reference). They predict that the project can achieve at least a Silver rating, with a Gold rating in sight as a possible final evaluation.

Specifically, the redevelopment of a “brownfield” site will accrue extra green credit points for the conversion of a portion of the railyard site. This history of use is not the worst of brownfield conditions for reuseable building sites—and why would we not want to begin the conversion of this challenge to connected, integrated, and catalytic sustainable growth?

Similarly, the flood plain, at this particular location should not be a final barrier to redevelopment. Lincoln’s nationally-recognized flood plain policies for such developments will require explicit conditions of design and planning for “no net rise” in the stream-flow capacity because of the new development. Neither the building or downstream conditions should be negatively impacted.

Finally, I believe the facts show that Lincoln has the necessary leadership, guiding public policies, professional talent, and community commitment to make this project a model of green and sustainable development. Other issues of need, vision, and civic accommodations remain for more debate.

© Lincoln Green by Design