Since World War II, Americans have used more every year—more land, more gas, more electricity. Consumption of resources puts strains on family budgets and the environment. But thanks in part to increased use of energy-efficient lighting and appliances, the tide is starting to turn toward smarter energy usage.
In September 2011, a utility research group announced that the annual increase in residential energy use has slowed from 2.5 percent to 2 percent and is likely to keep falling. The way people heat and cool their homes and the appliances they use are playing a role in this shift. But where and how people live also affects demand for gas and electricity. Designing cities, towns, and suburbs to improve quality of life and increase energy efficiency is called “smart growth.”
Las Vegas, Nevada, and Austin, Texas, are two cities using smart-growth principles to make housing and business areas “location efficient”; this is urban planner–talk for places where people can walk, bike, bus, or take a subway to go to work, do their shopping, or go out for entertainment instead of relying on cars. Median-income households in location-efficient neighborhoods spend about 13 percent of their income on transportation, while households in distant suburbs spend nearly three times as much of their income on transportation.
Because of this economic fact, residential areas farther from businesses and shopping outlets—in many cases, this means suburbs—are predicted to shrink in the future. But there’s a smart solution for that too. Communities can build parks, wetlands, schools, libraries, and medical clinics on the sites of abandoned shopping malls and office parks. “Shrinking smart” suburbs and smart-growth towns and cities can work hand-in-hand to promote energy efficiency and sustainable growth.
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- Sustainable Communities Building Blocks
Learn about the different tools and resources for planning sustainable growth that are being employed in communities across the country.
(Source: Environmental Protection Agency; accessed October 31, 2011)
- Smart Growth America: Making Neighborhoods Great Together
Check out this site devoted to smart-growth initiatives in Austin, Las Vegas, and other American communities.
(Source: www.smartgrowthamerica.org; accessed October 31, 2011)
- The Beginning of the End for Suburban America
Read this article about the impact of falling energy demand and its connection to shrinking suburbs.
(Source: The Atlantic, September 14, 2011)
- What about the Suburbs?
Listen in as two urban planners discuss uses for abandoned suburban land.
(Source: New York Times, June 27, 2011)