Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Two tweets by Jeff Speck

with 2 comments

The constraints of the 140 character limit meant that this observation by Jeff Speck got spread over two tweets. But instead of retweeting I decided to make it a blog post.

“When we built our new house in Washington, we too did our best to clear the shelves of the sustainability store.

Yet, all of our green gadgets cumulatively contribute only a fraction of what we save by living in a walkable neighborhood.”

This is pretty much what was established by the BC Energy Aware Committee many years ago – and BC Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources Energy Efficiency Branch even earlier. Yes, you can save energy by buying better windows, and putting more insulation in the roof. But simply giving up one of those cars and walking to more of your destinations will save far more. Our built environment is based on the idea of energy that is “too cheap to  meter” and that was a chimera. We are still stuck with that – not just as a desirable form but one that many of us will be forced to live in for a long time. And much of the battles that get fought over issues like transit funding or bike lanes stem from our attachment to the image of the place we thought that we had been promised.

And here are two more (November 4)

“Trading all your incandescent bulbs for energy-savers conserves as much carbon per year as living in a walkable neighborhood does per week.”

“The most green home (with Prius) in sprawl still spews more carbon than the least green home in a walkable neighborhood. (EPA)”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

2 Responses

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  1. Interesting, but can you (or Jeff) back that up? I know there are nuances, but how far does it go?

    Many people in walkable neighbourhoods still drive (albeit less often and for shorter distances). Also, there’s sprawl and there’s Sprawl. Currently visiting my parents in South Florida and getting milk or going to a park is a ten minute drives going 45 MPH the whole way. And parts of South Vancouver are not particularly walkable but you’ll never be more than a few minutes drive from a store.

    Not trying to be snarky, but how much energy is really saved?

    Andrew Eisenberg

    November 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm

  2. Of course there are many variables, but talking broad averages households in North America have been consuming more energy getting around than on heating/cooling their homes. In places like BC, where hydro rates were low, and building codes not designed for local conditions, there was more energy saving potential in getting people to give up one of their cars than putting more pink stuff in the roof. It is possible that when one considers greenhouse gas emissions, better fuel economy and the switch to renewables that in some places there may be less of a gap. But American data shows that people have been driving more and in less efficient vehicles as gas prices have fallen. But the overall land use pattern will be with us for a long time, and in BC since we keep on widening freeways and building new bridges, car dependence is not going away any time soon. I bet if you look at Jeff’s web page there will be data for the US – or at least links to places where you can find it if you are interested. And building better places would be worthwhile for a hatful of reasons even if there were no GHG savings!

    Stephen Rees

    November 7, 2015 at 12:54 pm


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