The Coalition for Smarter Growth released a fat report yesterday on how to plan for lower carbon emissions, and it’s a good read if you have a half an hour to wade through a bit of urban planning jargon. Their conclusions aren’t revolutionary—the smart growth community has long pushed for things like high-density development around transit hubs. But for this study, to illustrate the principles of smart growth, the authors conducted an extended thought experiment: What if we took certain development projects and moved them somewhere else? This shifts the focus for evaluating a large complex’s carbon impact to “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT): how much ground people have to cover in cars to get where they need to go. It makes a huge difference in carbon emissions if you locate a large office complex near residential towers and MARC trains, for example, rather than off on some highway interchange.
It’s probably fair to say that even the unbuilt projects the study looks at won’t be picking up stakes at this point to move to a strategically climate-friendly location. But using VMT as a metric in planning for the future would be a pretty efficient way of reducing carbon emissions. And it has a social justice component: Prince George’s County is fairly well-served by public transportation, but doesn’t have many jobs. Helping people to work near where they live by locating jobs in those communities has a beneficial climate impact as well.
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Smarter Growth isn’t the only group coming up with long-term plans for the region. Last week, a group of developers and university presidents launched the 2030 Group, which says it will plan regionally for massive new population growth in the next two decades—and that despite all the talk, it’s not happening already.
“The overriding problem is that there is no effective regional governance,” said Jacques Gansler, a former tech company executive, at the launch press conference. “There’s lots of speeches, lots of visioning going on. But there’s no implementation.”
No effective regional governance? The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which earlier this year released a comprehensive plan for “Greater Washington 2050,” might disagree. And the Greater Washington Board of Trade voiced skepticism as soon as hints about the 2030 Group surfaced last spring. The Post’s Lisa Rein pulled out an illuminating quote from the press conference, which hints at the philosophy behind the developers’ new planning organization: Politics gets in the way of business, and businesspeople need to step up.
“We have to take a much more active role in what we do,” said John T. “Til” Hazel Jr., a developer who shaped much of modern-day Northern Virginia. “Basically, the political world is controlled by the anti-growth people. We can’t let the antis control the world.”
With all these long-term comprehensive plans floating around, the future sometimes seems murkier rather than more clear.
Image from Coalition for Smarter Growth report.