With Higher Densities Come Smaller Footprints

This article's author reports his and economist Matthew Kahn's recent findings on metropolitan areas and carbon emissions. As it turns out, living in a high density area is one of the best things one can do for the environment.

"In only four cases in the entire 66-city sample were carbon emissions higher in central cities than in suburbs. In Los Angeles, central-city residents are using far more electricity than their suburban counterparts--possibly because newer, energy-efficient houses tend to be in the suburbs and because the urban core has many large homes."

"The data suggest a strong general pattern: households in dense urban areas have significantly lower carbon emissions than households in the suburbs.

So California environmentalists have things exactly backward. If climate change is our major environmental challenge, the state should actively encourage new construction, rather than push it toward other areas.

It should ease restrictions in the urban cores of San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego. More building there would reduce average commute lengths and improve per-capita emissions. Higher densities could also justify more investment in new, low-emissions energy plants."

Full Story: Help the environment, stay in the city



Michael Lewyn's picture

Especially impressive from this source

Glaeser and Kahn have written some fairly pro-sprawl stuff in the past. So this article is much more of a revelation coming from them then from, say, the Sierra Club.

not causation

Encouraging new urban development in itself is not in itself a sound response to the reported findings. This article suggests encouraging density itself is environmentally wise, as if discouraging sprawl will be it's natural consequence. Encouraging density while also pursuing land conservation, and actively discouraging conventional suburban development will have positive environmental outcomes. It's critical to remember that building a new mixed-use building downtown does not supplant a new cul-de-sac out of town - both happen simultaneously.

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