This post, first published on Grist, appears here courtesy of the Climate Desk collaboration.
With the Gulf oil spill continuing unabated, powering a 21st century economy on a 19th century fossil fuel looks less and less smart by the day.
Luckily, we've got other options. I described the most promising steps the federal government could take toward reducing oil use in transportation systems last week. But local governments don't have to wait for federal action. Through smart land use, cities, towns, and many rural areas can give residents the option of driving less—a direct way to stem the demand for offshore (and foreign) oil.
I spoke with leaders of the Smart Growth movement, along with advocates for economic justice, to learn about solutions that don't require new technology and, in many cases, pay for themselves. Want to do something in your own community to respond to BP's oil spill? Here are ten changes worth considering:
1. Complete streets. Towns and cities can't rebuild their roadways overnight to make them safe for walkers, bikers, children, and wheelchair users. But they can pass Complete Streets policies that require all renovations and new roads to be designed for a full range of users, not just autos. Places as diverse as Charlotte, N.C., Salt Lake City, and Hernando, Miss. (pop. 6,812), have adopted such plans, which encourage traffic-calming elements like curb extensions, bike lanes, median islands, and pedestrian signals.
Arlington County, Va.’s, most intense development follows its Metrorail line. Wikimedia Commons2. Build near transit. Subway and light rail lines don't come cheap, so cities that have them should make the most of them by surrounding stations with useful services—residential, retail, office, and medical space—rather than parking lots. Development along the Metrorail in Arlington County, Va., (right) is a textbook example. One caveat: New transit stops drive up property values, so it's key to pair transit-oriented development with affordable housing measures to keep from pricing out low-income residents, according to Judith Bell, president of the Oakland equitable development nonprofit Policylink.
3. Let the market lead. Consumer demand for compact, transit-friendly development has been rising—a recent study of construction trends found that urban neighborhoods have more than doubled their share of home construction in most metro areas. But many zoning codes make new compact neighborhoods illegal by requiring minimum lot sizes, street widths, street setbacks, and parking space. Removing these restrictions—something small-government libertarians should support—would address the problem of mandated sprawl.