We do often play on that old real estate joke, noting that the three most important influences on your energy use are location, location and location. Jeff Speck, planner, urban designer and author of the Walkable City put another way in a TED talk, claiming:
Changing all your light bulbs to energy savers saves as much energy in one year as moving to a walkable city does in a week.
Now this is one of those great sound bites, but is it true? Mike Christensen of Counting Pantographs ran the numbers. He took the average number of light bulbs in a house according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the average household gasoline consumption, the average number of cars in the average family and assumed that those living in a walkable community might use their car 95% less. (I might have assumed that they don't have one and live like Zach)
In the end, he finds that yes, Jeff Speck's claim is true. I wrote previously in Forget Hybrids And Solar Panels, We Need Active, Exciting and Vibrant Cities:
Perhaps money spent insulating buildings and sticking solar panels on roofs is misplaced. Instead, we need to make our Main Streets and downtowns livable again, revitalize our cities and make it attractive and fun to live where the action is, where the jobs are and where it is actually more convenient to walk or bike than to drive.
I know, we have to do all of the above, but lets get our priorities right. Fix our cities and the rest follows naturally.