Green sprawl is still sprawl, says Kaid Benfield

Lilac Hills
© Lilac Hills

It is so bucolic and green, the Lilac Hills Ranch north of San Diego, "a sustainable community that promotes healthy living by connecting residents with the natural environment." The developer continues:

A neighborhood grounded in traditional small-town values embracing 21st Century design and sustainability. Lilac Hills Ranch is conveniently located to intersect with major transportation corridors and other existing infrastructure. It will showcase new design and technology, making it the perfect place to grow smart and live green.

There's only one small problem; it may be near a "major transportation corridor", an interstate highway, but it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Kaid Benfield nails it at NRDC Switchboard:

The most significant factor in determining the environmental impacts of real estate development is the project’s location. Even the greenest development in the wrong location will create more environmental problems than it will solve. Of course, that doesn’t stop developers’ and architects’ green puffery. Heck, they may even be well-intentioned, trying to do the greenest internal design on a site whose non-green location cannot be overcome. But trying to green a project doesn’t make wishes come true.

Kaid's long and thoughtful post, 'Green' sprawl is still sprawl, is an update of one of the best explanations of the problem of green sprawl, his post of three years ago, What does 'net zero' mean? Sprawl by another name?.

The fact is, as can be seen in the wonderful Lawrence Livermore graphs, we are using a lot more energy getting to and from our houses, stores and offices than we are in them, we are using the energy very inefficiently, and we are getting the energy primarily from burning gasoline, a politically volatile fuel. Or as Kaid puts it,

I can’t over-stress that last point: On average, we use more energy and emit more carbon getting to and from a building than does the building itself. Peer-reviewed research published by the federal EPA shows that even green homes in conventional suburban locations use more energy and emit more carbon that non-green homes in transit-served city neighborhoods. The problem only gets worse when the development is located beyond suburbia on truly rural land. Indeed, the most exhaustive research I know on how land use affects travel behavior found that location – measured by, among other things, the distance from the regional center – is by far the most significant determinant of how much household driving will occur, over time, from a given location.

Simply put, green sprawl is still sprawl.

It's a shame, because the developer appears to be trying to say all the right things, like "Lilac Hills Ranch will be built around a Town Center that encourages walking — not driving; designed around people, not cars — to give residents a small-town lifestyle with a traditional main street."

But most people still have to go shopping and go to work, and San Diego is 45 miles away. Read it all at Switchboard.

Green sprawl is still sprawl, says Kaid Benfield
It's hard to build a green community in the middle of nowhere. The fact is, our biggest problem is our cars and how far we drive them..

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