2030 Planning Challenge

Recently, at CNU XV, 2030 °Challenge founder (and longtime solar advocate) Ed Mazria outlined the beginnings of a 2030 °Challenge for city planning — what we’re tentatively calling the 2030 Community Challenge. Elsewhere, I’ve brainstormed a few ideas on how planners can help to save the world from global warming. Mazria has been focusing on how architects can save energy for decades, so it’s taken a bit of education to get him to agree that planning can also have a huge impact on global warming. Here’s what Mazria had to say at CNU XV:

  • When planning a new or in an existing neighborhood, town, city, or region, planners should seek an immediate 50% reduction in fossil fuel consumption (greenhouse gas emitting energy), vehicle miles traveled (auto and freight), water consumption, materials (embodied energy), and “anything else you can think of that you deal with.”
  • Since planners are “larger scale folks,” they can have a broader impact than architects.
  • The targets should slide up: by 2010, a 60% reduction, etc., up to 100% (carbon neutral communities) by 2030.
  • How to get there? The first step is to implement a variety of design solutions [many of which are covered in LEED-ND]: density, infill, land reuse, location efficiency; transit- and pedestrian-oriented development and mixed-use; stormwater catchment and wastewater reuse; microclimate management; efficient infrastructure; and 2030 Architecture.
  • The second step is through community scale energy initiatives, particularly microgeneration.
  • The third step (a last resort) would be to purchase “green tags” or carbon credits. This, of course, is no substitute for real action.
  • Planners must also begin to think about many other environmental issues which architects haven’t had to consider, including wildlands conservation, wildlife migration corridors, and how to adapt to the major catastrophes (floods, hurricanes) that await us.
  • Most importantly, we have 5-10 years to start cutting emissions — or else we as a species probably won’t make it.

A follow-on speech by Scott Bernstein, president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, added to the call for urgent action. Fully one-half of the built environment is infrastructure — that is, publicly built — and thus out of the reach of average architects, but well within the purview of planners. Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, in their influential Stabilization Wedges scheme [outlined here], have listed “doubling fuel efficiency from 30 to 60 MPG,” “decreasing VMT by half,” and “using best efficiency practices in all building” as three of their fifteen billion-ton wedges. (Seven of the fifteen need to be implemented to stabilize CO2 concentrations; another is “install 700X current solar capacity.”)

Although trends are moving in the wrong way — bigger homes house smaller households, VMT growth is still positive, although it has dropped off lately — groups like CNT have pioneered ways of combatting these trends. High-speed rail has the capability to displace many air trips. Research into last-mile connections (those highly dispersed trips between nodes and homes) has revealed a wide appetite for choices like car sharing — whose users “use the city, not just the cars” — and streetcars. Last-mile freight movement remains a challenge, but CNT is working with inner-ring suburbs around Chicago to capitalize on underused rail freight facilities. These tools and techniques could easily double the magnitude of Mazria’s 2030 °Challenge.

Beyond Austin (which we’ll undoubtedly cover in a future post), one city that has initiated a citywide dialogue about how New Urbanism is progressive, green, and responds to the environmental challenges of our day — not just global warming, but One Planet Living — is Vancouver, fittingly the birthplace of the ecological footprint concept. There, Mayor Sam Sullivan has moved his EcoDensity campaign into a new gear by hiring Brent Toderian as the new planning director, following on Larry Beasley. Bob Ransford writing in the Vancouver Sun:

The focus of new urbanists is changing, just as concern for global warming and peak oil is suddenly engulfing public opinion in all circles. New urbanist planners, like Toderian, are leading the way, reminding us that livability may be an important pursuit, but that livability means little if the planet no longer exists as a habitable environment for humans and all other creatures. Toderian has already come out and told developers, politicians and citizen advisors — and anyone else who wants to listen to his message — that livability will no longer be the first indicator used to measure the quality of development in Vancouver. He is leading the way in replacing that benchmark with what he believes is a more urgent measure of our commitment to sustainability. Ecological sustainability will now be the measure of expected performance when judging new proposed developments in Vancouver… neighbourhoods are going to change and change will be measured not by how much or how little they disrupt current lifestyle in a neighbourhood. Instead, proposed change will be measured by how much it influences future lifestyle decisions that have the potential to impact positively or negatively our natural environment and its ecosystems.

Bold moves and equally bold words are needed to jolt North Americans into the reality of our climate challenge. Canadian cities have set up informational sites, like One Day Vancouver and Zero Footprint Toronto, but will have to follow up these calls for citizen action with equal civic action. (Forthcoming posts will discuss cities’ efforts to date — but let’s just say that the US Conference of Mayors signed on to the 2030 °Challenge without implementing many action steps.)

One important final point to make about the wedges: they clearly demonstrate that humanity will need to use every possible approach to this leviathan challenge. Our lives will have to change; they will change regardless. No silver bullets, no magical breakthroughs, no panaceas will save us from ourselves; it’s far too late for those. We will not be able to choose between two different ways to cut emissions — that means no “either/or” arguments pitting factions against one another — because we will need to do “both/and” if we are to survive.

One thought on “2030 Planning Challenge

  1. There are a few folks out there working backwards from 2020/2050 to obtain large carbon reductions through smarter smart growth.

    Here’s one vision:

    I presented this at Greenbuild Expo 2006, and, due to some great set up by the moderator and one other speaker, this vision really caught on with the 300-person audience. Part of this was due to the dreary, top-down approach to climate protection from some of the other sessions.

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