How Land Use Decisions Affect Energy Costs
Smart growth land use policies that support more compact and mixed use communities, more transportation options and the protection of farmland and habitat have the potential to decrease reliance on oil and increase the ability to respond to increasing energy prices. Development built according to smart growth principles is more efficient that typical development.
Between 1982 and 1997, the amount of land consumed for urban development increased by 47 percent while the nation’s population grew by only 17 percent. Inefficient land development practices have increased infrastructure costs as well as the amount of energy needed for transportation.
“Energy smart” land use decisions that focus on building design could reduce vulnerability to energy supply and price increases, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase the affordability of housing and commercial space by reducing energy costs.
Smarter growth land use policies have both a direct and indirect effect on energy consuming behavior. For example, transportation energy usage, the number one user of oil, could significantly be reduced through more compact and mixed use land development patterns served by a variety of transportation choices. Improved planning and design could reduce energy demand and also help to increase supply by tapping into renewable energy resources. When we incorporate energy considerations into development decisions, we can more effectively address the key way to secure our energy future, which is by reducing energy demand and diversifying supply.
One of the most important aspects to reducing energy demand is determining where to build and how efficiently you use land to build:
• Developing areas in or near city centers and public transportation can reduce vehicle miles traveled and fuel usage.
• Locating residential development near commercial development and other services can increase walking and decrease dependence on vehicles.
• Directing development away from remote locations can increase the efficiency of water and electricity distribution and reduce infrastructure subsidization.
• Building schools in efficient locations can increase walking and biking, lessening fuel usage and increasing opportunities for exercise.
Decisions concerning how we build have a direct relationship to energy consumption. Pedestrian friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods that encourage walking and biking to complete daily errands, or allow for combining trips, reduce car trips and related energy usage. Communities in which access to public transportation stations is enhanced can encourage greater usage of public transit and fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT).