Growing Smarter, Not Bigger

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.

Image credit: Stockbyte/Getty Images

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One Comment

  1. Brooklyn says:

    oh wow..COMMENT AGAIN!!! HEHE! anyways thats great