The current economic crisis-inspired debate on the role of the government intervention in the free market draws an easy parallel to building industry approaches for creating sustainable neighborhoods. In the financial markets, financiers pray for tax payer-funded bailouts while traditional conservatives assert that no bank is too big to fail, and populst liberals grin at the idea of Wall Street barons selling their Hamptons vacation home to their housekeeper for an affordably depressed rate. In the sustainable building industry, architects and developers looking to create entire neighborhoods along sustainable lines either demand that an ambitious sustainability criteria or LEED rating be met, or leave it up to baseline municipal regulations. In both situations, the question is “How much should we let the free market under perform in order to hold onto the values of unfettered marketplace competition?”
Of course, the common culprit where intervention is involved are a strong, central institution that can mandate such a change, as with the Treasury Department, or an architect hired to masterplan or build entire communities.
Busby Perkins+Will is doing just that in Victoria, British Columbia. Their Dockside Green will be a mixed-use development, made entirely of LEED Platinum-rated, carbon neutral buildings, and is a candidate for the USGBC’s LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot program, which will apply LEED-criteria to entire neighborhoods. The NOMA (North-of-Massachusetts-Avenue) development here in Washington, DC, also a candidate for LEED for Neighborhood Development, takes a different approach. It’s gathered a multitude of developers and architects to create a mixed-use urban neighborhood that had sat dormant for decades as a former disused industrial and transportation hub. City laws dictate the privately financed buildings must be LEED certified by 2012, but buildings are rising there today. Many are already reaching for LEED certification.
NOMA organizers say that competition will make sure the projects remains competitively green. Busby Perkings+Will say that their goal from the beginning has been to demand the most sustainable neighborhood in the world. If NOMA works, it’ll be a victory for the free market economies of green. If Dockside Green works, it’ll still mean much the same thing. The USGBC says that green buildings increase their value by 7.5 percent. One difference between the two projects is that due to their dominant authorship, Busby Perkins+Will will likely have a more detailed idea of what their project will look like in the future. If only the same could be said for the economy.