Green Living in Nashville

The city turns a run-down warehouse district into an upscale eco-neighborhood

Photo: MarketStreet Enterprises

BEFORE AND AFTER: It took the Gulch 10 years and US $7 million to win the world's strictest environmental certification for neighborhoods.

Nashville surely has more musicians than environmentalists. But last year, the Tennessee city became the first in the southern United States to have an internationally recognized green neighborhood.

The city’s once-dilapidated downtown industrial zone—24 hectares known as the Gulch—is one of 55 places (as of the end of 2009) in the world awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) certification for smart growth, new urbanism, and green building.

Today the Gulch is a cheerful intersection of old and new: revitalized brick warehouses now housing retail shops and trendy restaurants, anchored at one end by steel-and-glass high-rise condos and by a beloved ramshackle blues club at the other. It took a decade and US $7 million for the Gulch’s public/private collaboration to turn the site into a self-contained neighborhood of 900 energy-efficient mixed-income residential units and 34 800 square meters (375 000 square feet) of office and retail space, using such green technologies as LED traffic signals and centralized ventilation and water systems.

Nashville is one of 36 LEED-certified neighborhoods in the United States. LEED is the most widely recognized and toughest green-building program in the world. Some 35 000 single-building and neighborhood projects in 50 states and 91 countries participate.

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED program in partnership with the Congress for the New Urbanism and Natural Resources Defense Council in response to rising greenhouse emissions, energy drains, and development infringement on farmlands, wildlife habitats, and water quality. With buildings responsible for two-fifths of U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, greater building efficiency can meet 85 percent of future U.S. demand for energy.

LEED-ND criteria encourage designs that put homes, jobs, and services within reach of one another by foot or public transit and spur more-efficient energy and water use, building reuse, materials recycling, and heat-emission reduction. Until 2007, only individual buildings were rated. The USGBC spent two years in a pilot program using the results of 238 projects from 39 states and six countries—including those from the Gulch—to develop the LEED-ND rating system, to be released early this year.

The process can challenge even seasoned developers. ”Getting LEED certification was harder than we ever thought it would be—certainly, we didn’t think it would take 18 months,” says Dirk Melton, development director for the Gulch’s developer, MarketStreet Enterprises. The Gulch was also aiming for the more stringent Silver level of certification. ”We had to do a lot more legwork in terms of engaging city authorities and experts to help us with the various credits,” he adds. ”But because we were part of the pilot program, we probably had to do a lot more homework than will be necessary for future applicants.”

Melton says that municipalities as well as private developers can shepherd a neighborhood through the certification process. Indeed, in some ways it’s easier because of the often-lengthy commitment needed to recoup initial investments. Energy-efficient technologies, he says, are often more expensive up front, so they require a longer payback time than a typical development company might have. ”It’s pretty unique in the real estate community to make any kind of investment that isn’t recouped in a couple of years,” he says.

 LEED Stats (as of December 2009)

LEED-certified buildings in the United States: 4092

LEED-certified buildings worldwide (including the United States): 4327

LEED-ND–certified neighborhoods in the United States: 36

LEED-ND–certified neighborhoods worldwide (including the United States): 55

This article originally appeared in print as "Bluegrass and Green Living."

To Probe Further

For more LEED-ND information, go to http://www.usgbc.org/leed/nd or e-mail leedinfo@usgbc.org. For information on the Gulch, go to http://www.nashvillegulch.com.

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