CNU Video Shows How Walkable Urbanism Can Reduce Driving and Slash Carbon Emissions

Like switching out all of your light bulbs thirty five times

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As we act to protect the planet from climate change (and give ourselves a break from high gas prices) one of the best remedies will be found right out our front doors. Our neighborhoods.

That’s the message of a new video posted to CNU.org/climate – the new web hub for the Congress for the New Urbanism’s efforts to reduce climate change and oil dependency through sustainable development.

The opening moments of the six-minute video may change the way you look at compact fluorescent light bulbs. Shifting from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents is certainly a good way to start reducing your energy consumption and climate impact. By switching out all of their bulbs, a typical Chicago-area household, for example, could reduce its annual energy consumption (and related emissions) by 2 million BTUs.

But the video points out that the design and location of neighborhoods plays a far, far larger role in your overall energy use and carbon footprint. That’s largely because the typical American subdivision and its surrounding environment is designed completely for driving. To meet their daily needs, residents have no choice but to drive over a spread out landscape of homes, stores, office parks, schools and other destinations.

The video, A Convenient Remedy to the Inconvenient Truth, uses a number of revealing examples to show how the choice of a walkable, mixed-use transit-connected neighborhood can slash in half or more the 21,250 miles per year the average U.S household puts on its cars and trucks. In suburban downtown Evanston, just north of Chicago, households do about 65 percent less driving than the national average, according to peer-reviewed research by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Brookings Institution. And at Atlantic Station, a new urbanist development that rose on the site of a closed steel mill in Atlanta, the US EPA reports that average residents drive just 8 miles per day, compared to 32 miles per day for the average resident of metropolitan Atlanta. (Traditional walkable neighborhoods in more sparsely developed areas and with less-active mixing of uses and less transit service have less dramatic impacts on driving.)

Since the average U.S. household generates 20,600 pounds of carbon with their cars and trucks (assuming 20 miles per gallon fuel efficiency), neighborhoods that free people from the extreme levels of driving that have become the norm also spare the atmosphere considerable amounts of carbon. And that’s just looking at transportation.

With their shared-wall townhouse and loft designs, urban neighborhoods have built-in heating and cooling efficiency advantages -- they become even more efficient by incorporating green-building technology.

Instead of being a solution based on sacrifice, sustainable communities reduce climate impacts by building and rebuilding neighborhoods to which people are drawn for their livability and convenience -- communities where shops, coffee houses, schools and parks are a short walk or bike ride away, places with a range of housing types and sizes suited for people of diverse ages and income levels, a factor growing in importance as the aging of the baby-boom generation reduces the demand for large-lot housing.

Watch the video and visit cnu.org/climate to begin exploring the role of neighborhoods in addressing climate change and reducing petroleum.

Contact Steve Filmanowicz at CNU for more information: sfilmanowicz@cnu.org or (312) 927-0979.