According to the best science, making communities compatible with a safe climate requires transforming existing high-energy, car-centric planning into more of a people-first, resource efficient system that gives residents diverse great transportation options.1

How to do it? The foundation is more compact development. Which means, essentially, giving more people a chance to live near one another and the things they need to access.

One of the easiest ways for many places to advance compact development—in contrast to further sprawl-oriented growth—is to make in-town housing more inclusive by ending arbitrary, unscientific zoning formulas.

Mechanically, inclusive housing drives decarbonization through:

  1. Shortening the distance needed to move heavy vehicle mass;
  2. Making bicycling and walking more viable which can obviate a lot of the need for motor vehicles altogether;
  3. Making it realistic to own one less car or give up a car for a meaningful share of trips;
  4. Turning down the forces of sprawl that push more highway driving, high-energy housing, and a feedback loop for even more reliance on cars which could worsen; and
  5. Multiplying the possibilities to fund, utilize, and strengthen public transportation resources that are highly-productive from a climate standpoint like transit and bikeways.

More efficient, public-oriented transportation depends on more compact development. That’s because, for example, transit is only feasible at frequent headways when there is sufficient density. More compact development means more wealth from more people who can share in generating revenue for shared services. Furthermore, according to IPCC, compact development coupled with multimodal planning is one of the most cost-effective and fastest ways to reduce climate pollution of all.

All around the United States, existing methods of zoning are indifferent to the climate crisis, they are indifferent to the housing crisis, and they explicitly prohibit using space efficiently. A better world of possibilities awaits us.

1 Borrows heavily from written public comment co-authored by Ryan Schuchard for the City Council of Boulder regarding advocacy on the Colorado state bill, SB23-213, provided April 11, 2023. Also based in part on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (2022).

Further Reading

Here is a List of Reading on Transportation Climate Action.

More Information

This document is a working explainer by Ryan Schuchard. Please watch for updates. For questions and feedback, please connect with Ryan through the contact form.

Updated April 21, 2023

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