Smart Growth, Bad Air

<p>Locating residential development closer to city centers comes with a price: increased exposure to air pollutants.

Read Time: 2 minutes

May 3, 2007, 11:10 AM PDT

By Diana DeRubertis


Locating residential development closer to city centers comes with a price: increased exposure to air pollutants. The big irony is that much of this air pollution is vehicle-related -- resulting from our intractable framework of sprawl and auto dependence. Urban residents, who are more likely to walk or take public transit, therefore bear the brunt of suburbanites' SUV lifestyle.

A number of recent studies have confirmed the health risks of living near freeways and busy roads. Within a quarter mile of downtown Portland's freeway corridors, carcinogenic pollution levels measured 100 times higher than state safety standards. These areas have seen a boom in smart growth housing in the last few years. In another study, USC researchers found that children living near Los Angeles freeways suffer from impaired lung development, leading to lifelong respiratory disorders. A third investigation, which followed pregnant women in Bronx, NY, linked vehicle emissions to fetal damage and childhood cancers. It's becoming clear that pollution risks go far beyond ambient regional air quality. They are highly localized, varying at the neighborhood level and even smaller.

Is this a reason to abandon smart growth and head for the hills? That would be a big step backwards, as more sprawl would simply lead to a further increase in vehicle miles traveled. Fleeing the problem is also no way to solve it. Now that wealthier communities are getting a taste of environmental justice, they are coming face-to-face with the grim reality of our fossil fuel based economy. Perhaps that alone will help to accelerate changes to our energy and transportation systems.

In the meantime, planners will need to carefully consider air quality when exploring new residential projects. There is no good reason to build up against a freeway when urban neighborhoods with more diffused traffic exist, even if these alternative locations require construction at smaller scales. Buffering residential areas with parkland would also help. Most importantly, new developments should be part of the solution (walkable and transit oriented) rather than part of the problem (autocentric malls and condominiums).


Diana DeRubertis

Diana DeRubertis is an environmental writer with a strong interest in urban planning, a field that is intertwined with so many of today's environmental challenges. Diana received an M.A. and Ph.D.

Hyperloop

The Hyperloop’s Prospects Dim

The media is coming around to the idea that the hyperloop is not a near-term solution for the country’s transportation woes. It’s too little, too obvious, too late.

September 27, 2022 - James Brasuell

Miami and Key Biscayne

The Great American Exodus: A Conservative's Perspective

During his keynote speech on September 11 at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis describes the demographic shifts in America since he became governor in 2019 in what he calls the 'Great American Exodus.'

September 27, 2022 - The Wall Street Journal

A crowd of people cross the street with a sign for the entrance of Disneyland in the background

Disneyland Is Too Crowded. Is More Capacity Needed?

Disneyland has a plan to create more supply to meet contemporary demand, a strategy reminiscent of contemporary debates surrounding housing and transportation.

September 29, 2022 - James Brasuell

A crosswalk activation button is shown in the foreground with two pedestrians show blurred while crossing the street in the background.

Jaywalking Decriminalized in California

Another day, another historic planning-related bill signed into law in the Golden State.

October 4 - Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of Walla Walla, Washington

Smart Growth Plan Hopes to Rein in Sprawl in Walla Walla

The Washington city reformed its zoning code to support more multifamily development and a diversity of housing types to meet the needs of its growing population.

October 4 - Planning Magazine

Man with leather messenger bag riding CitiBike bike on New York street

The Resilience of Bikeshare

The inherent simplicity of bikes makes shared mobility systems a crucial transportation option during natural disasters.

October 4 - Bloomberg CityLab

New Case Study Posted on HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The World’s Leading Event for Cities

Smart City Expo World Congress

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.