Smart growth protects air quality

Smart growth strategies help people spend less time in the car, and less time driving means lower emissions. Pollution from vehicles — including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulates, and volatile organic compounds—cause billions of dollars in damage to human health, buildings, crops and wildlife each year, and although new technologies like alternative fuels and fuel-efficient cars promise to reduce carbon emissions, the single most effective thing we can do to curb this harmful pollution is to drive less. Smart growth recommends a number of ways to help make that possible.

Reduce driving distances by building close in.
When homes are built far from stores, schools or job centers – as is often the case in dispersed development – residents of those areas have to drive further to reach their daily destinations. Smart growth strategies like redeveloping vacant properties and building close to existing infrastructure can reduce the amount of travel necessary to accomplish everyday tasks. Building close in also allows some trips to be made by biking or walking instead of by car, particularly when coupled with smart growth’s recommendations about pedestrian-friendly street design.

Case study: Washington State
A study by King County, WA, found that residents in the county’s most walkable neighborhoods drive one-third fewer miles and emit one-fifth less carbon pollution per person than residents who live in the most sprawling areas. Another study from Washington State found that people who work in the most concentrated jobs center – that is, the middle of the city – emit 30% less nitrogen oxides and 20% less carbon dioxide than people who work in areas with lower concentrations of jobs.

Create transportation options.

In many communities across the country the only way to get to the store, a job or school is by driving. Smart growth advocates for giving people transportation choices, including access to buses, trains, subways, car sharing and streets designed for safe walking and biking. Having these options means people have a choice about how to get around, and many people find these options work better for some trips. Not only do transportation options reduce carbon pollution themselves, they also help reduce congestion and that means other drivers spend less time in traffic, lowering emissions even more.