Green Gulch

Issue: 
April 2011

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Hi, neighbor! The song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was written by Fred Rogers and opened Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1968 to 2001. Who among us doesn’t have a tender, nostalgic feeling for this charming, iconic childhood show? Who among us would not welcome Fred McFeely Rogers to be our neighbor?

If he were around today, I think Mister Rogers would embrace the idea of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified neighborhoods. Until a couple of years ago, LEED certification was offered only to individual buildings, like the Pinnacle Building at the corner of Second Avenue and Demonbreun. In 2008, LEED Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) was formed with a focus on integrating principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national system for green neighborhood design.

Right here in Music City, the Gulch is the South’s first neighborhood to obtain LEED-ND certification, and one of only 13 such neighborhoods worldwide.

So what exactly is LEED and how does a neighborhood qualify for LEED status?
LEED is the brainchild of the U.S. Green Building Council (usgbc.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group formed in 1998 with the mission to create sustainable, low carbon emitting, energy efficient office buildings and homes. LEED is the arm of the USGBC that offers hands-on, practical advice to building owners and builders for identifying and implementing green building design.

There are five levels of LEED certification: Certified, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Buildings and neighborhoods need to demonstrate that they utilize greener practices in areas such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and sustainability.

LEED-ND offers a 12-step program for detoxing neighborhoods. Of the 12 steps, seven are self-evident: increase civic participation and community involvement; preserve and enhance natural resources; support local agriculture and food production; increase affordable housing options; reduce carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions; reduce waste with a comprehensive recycling program; and develop an efficient transportation network that reduces vehicle use.

The other five, however, aren’t quite so obvious.

The first step, create a sustainability plan, would have left me rather flummoxed if it hadn’t been for the plethora of freely given advice. My favorite: “obtain buy-in from a bigwig.” Got it. Sustainability Plan = $$$$$.

Step three, support regional cooperation—say what?—refers to working with your geographic neighbors to be certain that the regional infrastructure can support everyone. The example cited is the water shortage that befell Georgia a couple of summers back, when Atlanta had to buy water from reserves in Florida and Alabama.
Step seven, implement small growth strategies, initially threw me for a loop. It basically translates to: sprawl is out; repurposing existing infrastructures is in. This is what transpired in the Gulch. In its previous incarnation (circa early 20th century) the Gulch was a busy railroad corridor, a hotbed of activity and commerce. By the late 20th century, however, the area had become a blight on the city and—save for the Station Inn—a veritable ghost town. Now, thanks to a partnership between Metro and Market Street Enterprises, the Gulch is once again a hotbed of activity, and is certified LEED-ND Silver.

Step 10, support green buildings and green infrastructure, is somewhat counterintuitive. It calls for the preservation of historic buildings; not only do such buildings connect communities to their pasts, but buildings built prior to 1920 are more energy efficient than the newer construction of the mid to late 20th century. The energy savings associated with using existing buildings, rather than demolishing them and rebuilding, is extensive. In Memphis, designers incorporated the foundation walls of the old Court Annex building into the new Court Annex (CA2) building’s footprint. The savings associated with the recycled foundation boosted the building to LEED Gold certification, and CA2 is the highest LEED-rated building in Memphis.

While step eight, encourage healthy, active living, is totally obvious, I think it’s the one Mister Rogers would have liked best: Healthy people create healthy communities. Yep, I think if he were still around, Mister Rogers would definitely go for LEED-ND certification in his neighborhood.

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