Report Links Housing Growth and Climate Resilience

Data from three U.S. metro areas show a failure to address land use and sprawl as a key factor driving climate change.

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December 26, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Town Homes

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A report from Rushaine Goulbourne and Jenny Schuetz provides a model for climate-friendly housing development in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., three metro areas with different urban development patterns. The report notes that "over the past 30 years, most new homes in these metro areas have been built in suburban and exurban communities, with single-family homes making up roughly 70% of new homes—exactly the opposite of climate-friendly growth." But since 2005, multi-family units have started overtaking single-family construction, signaling a shift toward denser, more accessible developments. The authors recommend strategies including infill development that will put people closer to jobs and services and enable a 'car-light lifestyle.' 

According to the report, "In Chicago and Washington, D.C., homes built in the urban core and along key transit spokes that connect to large suburban job centers create the greatest opportunity for non-car-dependent commutes. However, in the Atlanta metro area, nearly two-thirds of MARTA stations are located within the city of Atlanta, providing limited connections to major suburban job centers."

While most land use decisions are made at the local and state level, the authors note, the federal government can encourage more sustainable development by enacting rules that connect land use to transit funding and providing grants to boost transit.

Thursday, December 16, 2021 in The Brookings Institution

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