The Housing Chronicles Blog: Levittown Goes Green

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Levittown Goes Green

Once known as America's first suburb, Levittown, NY is now trying to emerge as the country's first re-engineered green neighborhood. Built more than 60 years ago, the 53,000-person community has a lot of options to improve its energy efficiencies. From the current issue of Time magazine, "Going Green" columnist Bryan Walsh explains:

County officials, along with environmentalists and local businesses, recently launched the Green Levittown program, which aims to persuade residents to upgrade their homes, improving energy efficiency and cutting fuel bills. Volunteers signed up to canvass Levittown's 17,000 homes starting Jan. 15. Their mission is to introduce the program and offer to schedule an energy audit (approximately $300) that can identify cost-effective renovations. Those who choose to participate--replacing an inefficient hot-water boiler, adding solar thermal power--can finance the upgrades with reduced-interest loans offered by a local credit union.

The U.S. Green Building Council -- that group which designed the Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED) certification has not only extended its rating system to residences (and I've already consulted with some developers eager to sell 'green' condominiums to buyers even before the market has demonstrated a willingness to pay more for it), but also to entire neighborhoods:

Greening house by house is already catching on--the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) extended its Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED) rating system to residences to meet the interest in more environmentally friendly homes. But the next steps will be tougher. The sprawl of the suburbs has ensured that much of the energy we consume--and carbon we emit--comes from our dependence on cars. Until we change the layout of our neighborhoods--reversing the suburban ideal of semi-isolated homes--living green won't be easy. "Having a green neighborhood and a green home are two different things," says Michelle Moore, a vice president at USGBC.

As it happens, USGBC recently launched LEED-Neighborhood Development, a new rating system that evaluates how the layout of a development has an impact on the environment. Green features on individual homes will count, but so will designing a neighborhood dense enough to make walking to the office or store a simple task, not an epic journey. "The building is a piece," says Douglas Farr, a Chicago-based architect who helped design the rating system. But "it's part of a bigger system." Making the suburbs truly green will take a construction revolution every bit as sweeping as the one that created Levittown out of thin air six decades ago.

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