A “level flow spreader” at Ernst Park facilitates stormwater infiltration, reducing utility costs and promoting ecological function. Photos: Seattle Parks and Recreation
The Carkeek Environmental Learning Center, Seattle's first LEED Gold Building, demonstrates residential-scale sustainable building and landscaping techniques.

Once an agreement was reached on our conceptual approach, we screened a wide range of potential design features through our triple lifecycle model to arrive at our priorities, which we then arrayed in a LEED-like scorecard. This scorecard presents our “top 10” sustainable development project goals, which we refine each year. At the close-out of each project, all project managers rate the degree to which their projects achieved these goals on a Web-enabled database.

While we were developing of our internal scorecard, we had several public community centers in various stages of design, and there was an expectation that they meet the city's sustainable building policy. The project teams focused on the LEED credits that most closely aligned with our emerging concept of sustainable development. Credits that hit the sweet spot of operating cost reduction, improved ecological performance, and increased comfort and health of building occupants were prioritized.

It quickly became clear that institutionalizing sustainable development measures would create efficiencies for all upcoming projects. We amended contracting processes to reward firms with sustainable design and construction expertise and updated design standards to require less toxic, more local, and higher recycled-content materials. We created fact sheets to convey our intentions to project advisory teams and other stakeholders and routinely distribute our sustainable development scorecard to design professionals with whom we interact.

While this effort was underway in our capital projects group, Seattle Parks was developing a department-wide Environmental Management System (EMS) that prompts us to set division-level goals for rainwater harvest, impervious surface reduction, and engagement of underserved communities in project design decisions. The fiscal, social, and environmental performance improvements we are achieving on a project-by-project basis are summarized in a division-level scorecard which then nests in an overall Seattle Parks EMS scorecard.

Results and Goals

Because project managers regularly update the database that tracks our accomplishments, we capture real-time achievements in sustainable development. As of mid-2005, we were able to report the following accomplishment levels on our top 10 goals across the full range of capital projects:

  • 90% include “smart roof” designs (translucent elements, eaves, beyond-code slopes)
  • 87% include graffiti-reduction measures
  • 72% have “easy-mow turf” designs (no need for hand mowers)
  • 55% have enhanced revenue-generation capacity.
  • Social
  • 100% include improved multi-modal access
  • 92% include crime-deterrence measures
  • 85% engaged new/potential users.
  • Environmental
  • 90% achieve construction waste management goals
  • 83% have enhanced ecological function
  • 70% include high-efficiency irrigation.
  • To implement a program-wide approach to sustainable development, we created a conceptual frame, developed our policies, built the measurement tools, and established targets for individual projects and the entire capital program. Our project and program accomplishments now feed into the department's EMS, which provides the mechanism for adjusting, tracking, and reporting on fiscal, social, and environmental goals.

    We've made great progress on updating basic design standards and contracting language. We are now taking on more challenging issues like alternative irrigation strategies, a multi-modal transportation policy, and more robust crime-deterrence measures. To climb to the next level, we will create park typologies to guide variations in features and amenities based on usage levels and park types. More naturalistic settings (with native plants) will get lighter-duty irrigation systems, while parks with heavier use patterns will be designed to stand up to such traffic.

    We are developing an evaluation process to validate the effectiveness of priority features and are staying attuned to emerging design solutions, technologies, and materials.

    By summer, we'll learn if the city's new 2-acre Northgate Park really can be irrigated exclusively with harvested rainwater. We'll continue to include park features that are priorities for immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities. We'll acquire new park lands to connect wildlife corridors and meet the needs of increasingly compact neighborhoods—while building a park system that has lower operating costs and greater revenue-generating potential.

    Our goal is to increasingly reach the ideal where design strategies and construction methods are cost-effective, ecologically sound, and socially beneficial. We realize this is a moving target, pushed along by demographic shifts, ecological pressures, emerging technologies, and ever-changing resident preferences. However, what we have in our favor is a shared approach, the right tools, leadership—and a growing ability to aim and meet our target.

    — Gelb is a capital project coordinator for Seattle Parks and Recreation and a LEED-accredited professional.