From Green Right Now Reports

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced a new “LEED for Neighborhood Development” rating system today that aims to reward communities that try to reduce urban sprawl, increase walkability and transportation options, and decrease automobile dependence.

USGBCThe new certification, developed with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, hopes to encourage development within or near existing communities and public infrastructure to reduce the impact of sprawl. It is the seventh rating system for the USGBC, which certifies residential, commercial and other properties based on their environmental footprint.

In an announcement of the new program, the USGBC noted that many studies have found that connecting communities— keeping them closer to amenities and retail services – provides economic and health benefits.

The health benefits come from reduced traffic and air pollution and increased walkability. The shortened travel times also save money, USGBC officials said, citing a 2008 study that showed “automobile dependent” communities devote 50 percent more money to transportation.

“Sustainable communities are prosperous communities for the occupants and businesses which inhabit them,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council in a statement. “LEED for Neighborhood Development projects are strategically located in or surrounding metropolitan areas – often times revitalizing brownfields, infills or other underutilized spaces, opening new revenue streams, creating jobs opportunities and helping to drive the local, state and national economies.”

The LEED for Neighborhood Development program will promote “safe and inclusive communities” with good access to jobs, businesses, schools and parks, as well as ways to get around for pedestrians, bicyclists and those wanting public transit, officials said.

“Half of the buildings we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground,” said Kaid Benfield, Director of the Smart Growth Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, “Where we put them is even more important to the environment than how we build them, and NRDC is proud to stand alongside our partners with a system that helps guide them to the right places while avoiding the wrong ones.”

The NRDC helped develop the USGBC plans by working with Smart Growth America, a national coalition of organizations working for better communities.

The Congress for the New Urbanism brought leading city planners and architects from the New Urbanist movement to help develop the new rating system.

“LEED for Neighborhood Development contains the components for compact and complete neighborhoods. With walkable streets, appropriately-scaled schools, and a mix of amenities close by, residents can lower their environmental impact while improving their quality of life,” said John Norquist, President and CEO, Congress for the New Urbanism.