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Baltimore Sees Green: Setting the Standard for City-Wide Sustainability

Baltimore has taken tremendous steps to become a greener city. In 2007, legislation was passed by city council that would require that all new buildings and large renovations within city limits receive a minimum rating of silver under the LEED standard for green buildings or a green certification equivalent to the LEED qualifications.  The city also has its own green building design requirements that must be met for new construction. Since the legislation was passed, new renovations and structures have been erected and have exceeded both the minimum LEED standards as well as the city’s green standards.  More importantly, the city’s green efforts go even further than legislation and architecture. More Baltimore residents are also becoming conscious of the environment and taking necessary steps to make their communities more sustainable.

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John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore by Behnisch-Architekten. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.

What it Means to LEED

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building rating system that was developed under the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and has recently grabbed many architects’ attention as well as contractors and residents looking for energy efficient housing. Under the LEED system, projects are rated and given points. Based on the amount of points accrued, buildings can gain a rating of silver, gold, or platinum.  It’s imperative that new buildings in Baltimore City meet at least a silver ranking in new construction and in renovation projects.

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The Towson Green town-homes in Baltimore are ENERGY STAR certified. Image via Bozzuto Homes, towsongreen.com.

Green According to Baltimore

Along with the national recognition of the LEED standards, new buildings within the city also have to meet the Baltimore City Green Building Standards. These standard were developed with some of the same ideas from the LEED model of certification but include standards that correlate to the city’s initiatives in zoning and the its sustainability plan. Like the LEED qualifications, Baltimore also has a point system that newly buildings can gain. With a minimum rating of 2 and a maximum of 5, Buildings gain points through the qualifications met under different categories; water use, energy conservation, recycling, and quality of air within the interior spaces.

Since the legislative enforcement of both LEED standards and city standards on new construction has occurred, new buildings as well as renovations have state of the art features that promote sustainability and the use of alternative energy resources. Some buildings have also redefined Baltimore’s skyline. The University of Baltimore’s Angelos Law Center, designed by Behnisch Architekten, is a recent addition to Baltimore’s urban landscape. The building opened in 2013 and features windows which circulate fresh air to reduce cooling costs. The building also features a rainwater collection system that reuses the collected water, preventing it from reaching the Baltimore drainage system. Other green construction includes the Center for the Built Environment and Structural Studies at Morgan State University, which received a gold rating by LEED standards. Both buildings were also awarded by AIA Baltimore and AIA Maryland.

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The Blue Water Baltimore Watershed Center, a LEED Gold Certified building. Image via bluewaterbaltimore.org.

Green on a Grass-Roots Level

The green efforts of the city aren’t completely dependent on legislators and architects. Residents have also been doing their part in making Baltimore a greener city by creating urban farms in blighted areas. According to the Baltimore Sun, more than one third of Baltimore neighborhoods do not have access to healthy food.  In addition, many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods are blighted with abandoned lots and dilapidated row homes. Residents have chosen to make use of their situation by establishing community gardens on the available lots. The Whitelock Community Farm in Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood that has a mixture of vacant and occupied spaces, is an example of urban farming in the city. Established in 2010, the community farm began growing corn. Over time, it eventually hosted a variety of different fruits and vegetables. The farm currently contains over 27 different types of produce. The trend of urban farming has caught on in other neighborhoods within the city as well. The Ash Street Garden in Hampden is another city farming project part of the Baltimore Free Farm, a sustainable collective in Baltimore. On a micro-scale, community gardens are also being formed in different areas of the city.

Despite Baltimore’s leaps and bounds in becoming a more sustainable city, it continues to face a few challenges. With the new movement towards green building, the city must develop ways to incorporate sustainability and create jobs for its citizens. Baltimore must also look at the credibility of its Baltimore Green Standard. Because LEED has already gained popularity from architects, contractors, and potential residents, Baltimore’s legislation on green building may not be needed. Despite these slight setbacks, Baltimore has definitely proved itself as a forward thinking city with visions of a greener future.

Feature Image: Baltimore Convention Center, home to a 28,000 square foot green roof. Image via Greenroofs.com.

About The Author

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Originally from the rural suburbs of Maryland, Jonathan Terrell Midgett has always had a curiosity for urban life. His exposure to city life in the areas of Richmond, Washington D.C and Baltimore, would later lead him to travel throughout his college career. Jonathan began studying at Virginia Commonwealth University and then later transferred to Towson University where he would gain his Bachelors of Science in Metropolitan Studies. While studying at Towson, Jonathan studied urban design in Denmark at the Danish Institute for Studies Abroad. Currently, Jonathan is a freelance photographer and is enrolled in the Graduate Architecture program at Morgan State. He continues to express his love for urbanism and sustainable design through academics, Research, and freelance photography.