The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) has announced the first three projects to be certified by the nation's most comprehensive system for rating the sustainable design, construction and maintenance of built landscapes.
The St. Charles, Missouri, campus of Novus International Inc., the Green at College Park of the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee, are the first to be recognized for their sustainable land practices from among 150-plus pilot projects seeking certification since summer 2010.
SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created in 2005 to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of green landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sustainable landscapes in areas with or without buildings.
In June 2010, pilot projects began testing the rating system created by dozens of the country's leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects were at various stages of development, with the goal of seeking up to a four-star rating upon completion.
The SITES rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits to choose from that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. One through four stars are obtained for achieving 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of those 250 points. The Novus headquarters, the Green at College Park, and Woodland Discovery Playground SITES Certified Projects received a three-star, one-star, and one-star rating respectively.
Among the features Novus developed with SWT Design and others for the 9-acre headquarters was a parking lot with stormwater retention features, a walking trail that winds through restored prairie and other habitat, and a vegetable garden that staff members maintain.
"The innovation and analytical thinking of these first certified projects is helping point the way for the next iteration of the guidelines, which will form the basis for open certification in 2013," said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville.
The Green at College Park project leaders including Professor of Landscape Architecture David Hopman worked with Schrickel, Rollins and Associates Inc. to create an open lawn, pedestrian promenade, shade arbor and more on about three acres in downtown Arlington.
The site had served mostly as a parking lot, with poor stormwater drainage that flooded a nearby creek. Now the green space next to Arlington's first mixed-use development features native and adapted plants in rain gardens and a water detention system that help slow the flow of stormwater to cleanse it for re-use on the green space's new vegetation.
"Developing inviting outdoor spaces that make the most of precious resources such as water is critical to our future," said Susan Rieff, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. "These projects powerfully demonstrate how sustainably designed landscapes can produce environmental, economic and aesthetic benefits."
The conservancy that oversees Shelby Farms Park developed the Woodland Discovery Playground with James Corner Field Operations and others to restore a woodland and promote children's health. The 4.25-acre playground was developed based on children's play theories and after workshops with children and adults. It uses recycled shoe material to cover several play areas and loose, recycled boot material under a playroom of nets and tree houses. The permeable materials allow stormwater to nourish an arbor with native trees connecting the playrooms.
"The educational value of these pilot projects is significant. They demonstrate what a sustainable site looks and feels like and now serve as a model to others aspiring for sustainability in a designed landscape," said Holly H. Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. "Having the first pilot projects certified solidifies years of work into something tangible that we hope will be replicated all around the country."
SITES will continue to receive feedback from the SITES Certified Projects and the remaining pilot projects until June 2012. These projects include private residences, streetscapes, industrial complexes and other settings. Their input as well as the public's will be used to finalize the rating system and reference guide, expected to be released widely in 2013.