2011 - Research

Can Smart Growth Policies Conserve Energy and Reduce Emissions?

This article examines the role smart growth can play in achieving planning objectives, including energy conservation and emission reductions. It summarizes existing literature on land use impacts on travel activity, energy consumption and pollution emissions. It examines claims that smart growth policies are ineffective and harmful.

  • Land use policies can significantly affect transportation options and costs, and therefore travel activity. People who live and work in automobile-dependent locations tend to drive more annual miles, consume more fuel and produce more pollution than they would in more accessible, multi-modal communities. As a result, smart growth reforms can provide various economic, social and environmental benefits.
  • Some critics claim that these impacts are small and not cost effective but their analysis tends to misrepresent key issues. The only consider land use density, ignoring the effects of other land use factors such as regional accessibility, land use mix, road and path connectivity, transport system diversity, and parking management. They overlook additional benefits, and growing consumer demand for more accessible, multi-modal home locations. As a result, they underestimate smart growth impacts and benefits.
  • This is important because existing land use development policies and planning practices tend to favor sprawl and automobile dependency. Smart growth requires policy reforms that allow more compact and mixed development, support alternative modes, and reduce existing subsidies to automobile such as generous minimum parking requirements. These reforms tend to face institutional inertia and political opposition. It is therefore important to have accurate information on the full potential impacts and benefits of smart growth policy reforms. When all impacts are considered, smart growth policies are often a cost effective way to achieve planning objectives.

Litman, Todd. (2011). “Can Smart Growth Policies Conserve Energy and Reduce Emissions?” Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate Quarterly 5(2): 21-30.