Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sacramento & Suburbs

Sacramento is a city that is primarily suburban with almost all of its housing being attached or detached rather than multi-housing, and in this article from New Geography, reporting on recent research from Australia regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the suburbs rated higher than the central city.

An excerpt.

“The Mythical “Demise” of the Suburbs: Nearly since the pace of suburbanization increased, following World War II, critics have been foretelling the demise of the suburbs. During the 1950s and 1960s, some planning “visionaries” such as Peter Blake were predicting widespread municipal bankruptcies in the suburbs and for residents. This was occurring even as other urban planners were tearing up cities with urban renewal projects and freeways , setting the stage for “block-busting” and an ever-widening racial divide. The early criticisms have been repeated through the years, justifying a paraphrase of the old saw about Brazil (“Brazil is the country of the future and always will be”): “The suburbs are the wasteland of tomorrow and always will be.”

“The Real Decline of the Cities: In fact, it has more generally been the central cities that nearly went bankrupt, not the suburbs. Examples include New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and that jewel of municipal consolidation, Indianapolis, rescued last year by $1 billion in state taxpayer funds. There are hopeful signs of a renaissance in most central cities, however their financial difficulties remain intractable and large swaths of their land area remain desolate. Meanwhile, the lawns were mowed in the suburbs, the houses painted and a strong sense of community developed among residents that was far too subtle for the prophets of suburban doom to perceive.

“Greenhouse Gas Emissions: More recently, the effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has given suburban critics new ammunition. A simple mantra was dictated by “planning common sense.” Cars produce greenhouse gases, therefore people must get out of cars and live in more dense conditions, where they will not need to drive as much. Further, they will live in smaller, multi-family dwellings, which planning common sense teaches are more GHG friendly than the despised – except by those who choose to live in them – detached housing in the suburbs.

“But a funny thing happened on the way toward GHG inspired desurburbanization. Some academics actually began looking at data. The reality of the suburbs turned out to be rather different from that portrayed by the conventional wisdom of the planners. The most comprehensive research comes from Australia, some of which has been previously covered here.

“University of South Australia: The most recent (and new) offering comes from a University of South Australia report that allocates transportation and residential energy produced GHGs by location and housing type in the Adelaide area. The researchers found that the most GHG friendly sector of the urban area was the inner suburbs, which are dominated by single-family attached housing. GHG emissions per capita from housing and transportation were estimated at 7.0 metric tons of GHG emissions per capita annually.

“However, the outer suburbs, principally with detached housing, were not far behind at 7.4 tons GHG emissions per capita. The highest GHG emissions per capita, by far, were in the central area, with its predominance of multi-unit housing. There the annual GHG emissions were estimated at 10.0 tons per capita (See Figure). The University of South Australia study includes an element missing from virtually all other examinations of transportation and residential GHG emissions: “embodied emissions.” Embodied emissions are the GHGs from construction or manufacturing materials, and from building cars, transit vehicles and buildings. Embodied GHG emissions are ignored by much research, but are a significant factor in GHG emissions. For example, multi-unit housing, with higher use of concrete and more complex construction methods, tends to be substantially more GHG intensive than building detached housing or townhouses.”