What is a GND for cities? The passage of the Minneapolis 2040 plan, which will upzone the entire city, and a new effort to pass a statewide transit-oriented development proposal in housing-starved California—may, without meaning to, provide glimpses of what that kind of vision may resemble. As cities confront climate change, is density the answer? Plans to increase urban density may foreshadow how cities respond to efforts to cut emissions 76
- A 2014 London School of Economics study determined that large global cities, with a “modest blend of pro-density housing and transit policies,” could cut their emissions by a third by 2030.
- Peter Calthorpe calculated that through urban densification alone, the United States could achieve half the carbon reductions needed to hold global temperatures to a rise of 2 C (4 F).
- More density also means more housing, especially along transit corridors and downtown near jobs. By reducing sprawl, adding more housing units, and, ideally, cutting down transit times, building density tackles a key side effect of rising costs: the movement of affordable housing farther away from opportunity.
- “For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers,” California state Sen. Scott Weiner told Curbed writer Adam Brinklow via email. “As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals.”
- Placing density at the center of climate change mitigation strategy means not just doing the “right thing” in terms of cutting emissions, but offering tangible, immediate benefits as a selling point. Increased density means more opportunities for walkable neighborhoods and car-free transit, which would cut pollution. Density means shorter commutes and less driving, leading to less congestion, fewer road fatalities, and improved health outcomes from cleaner air.
- These very issues—affordability, transportation, equity—have helped sell both the Minneapolis 2040 plan and Weiner’s transit-oriented development bill, SB-50, the More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability (More HOMES) Act. Weiner’s bill is as much about transportation—now the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in California, as well as the U.S at large—as it is about housing.
- “If we have more people living closer to public transportation, so they’re not driving or [they are] driving less, it’ll give us a much better chance of meeting our climate goals,” Weiner told Curbed. “We’ll never meet them with current land-use patterns.”