By Andre Shashaty

Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of "optimization" of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.

Speaking at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference here, Duany took aim at one of the banes of the modern developer's existence: excessive regulation of development, particularly the high cost of certification of buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system.

The Miami-based new urbanist architect said that "optimization" was driving up the cost of development to absurd levels.

He said infrastructure and permitting are "fantastically expensive” and blamed this primarily on "optimization," that is, the practice of imposing increasingly detailed and strict regulations in an effort to take development from merely good to nearly perfect.  

He took a swipe at city emergency services officials for wanting too much optimization of roads. But he saved his strongest words for green building certifiers.

He criticized green building standards that don't give points for low cost approaches like passive solar heating but encourage developers to buy expensive windows to make sure that "not an atom of air escapes."

"Environmentalism got addicted to optimization and we can't afford it," Duany said. "It's absurd what you have to go through to get LEED certified.  It will crash on it's own.  It already is."

Duany is a principal of the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), and was co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism with his partner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.

"It costs more to get a project certified under the LEED for neighborhoods (LEED-ND) program than it does for me to design it," he said.

He called on the green building movement to adopt a dual approach, with one set of low tech standards and one set of high tech standards.

"There are many low costs ways to get 85% of the benefit of today's standards.  We need $45 windows, not $250 to $300 windows," he said.

Duany said there needs to be a "LEED Brown" rating, in addition to the current silver, gold and platinum ratings.  He suggested this could give builders credit for using traditional but low cost measures that are not easy to quantify or certify.  He described these steps as "the original green," and "what we did when we didn't have money."

He said that high-density development in urban locations which entail less reliance on private cars should get a free pass on energy efficiency or energy generation standards.  "Don't make apartment dwellers install solar power," he said.  "They are doing their part just by living densely and driving less."

He ridiculed the notion that single-family homes would ever lose popularity or that they should be squeezed out by public policy.  But he did suggest that they be subject to more efficiency requirements to compensate for the inherent inefficiency of this use of land.

Duany also had choice words for government land use and building officials.

In New Orleans, he said that government standards for rebuilding added costs that just about exactly offset the amount of assistance the government was going to provide, so "no one can rebuild."

How are Duany's clients adapting to today's difficult development climate?  With "slow development," which he defined as working up to high density in a gradual way, likening it to how towns were developed in the 1800s.  He spoke of the benefits of one-floor retail, with no housing above it, and of walk-up apartments, both of which he said are highly efficient.

For more detail on Duany's thinking about slow development read the March/April issue of Sustainable Communities magazine. 

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