If you buy the theory that carbon emissionsare fueling global warming, then you might want to rethink your development planning—and encourage your local building department to follow suit. Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, a research study and upcoming book from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and others, makes a case for high-density, compact development models that, by design, reduce carbon emissions from vehicle traffic.

Courtesy Jonathan Rose Cos.

If sprawling development models continue, says the study, the projected increase in vehicle miles driven would offset any gains in fuel efficiency and cleaner-burning fuels. The study estimates that residents of pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, high-density communities—ideally with ready access to public transportation—drive a third fewer miles than those living in conventional suburbs. “One of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving,” says lead author Reid Ewing, associate and research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. The study also points to the viability of smaller housing units and mixed-use communities for a more diverse buying public. “There is a substantial amount of demand now and projected for compact living environments,” says David Goldberg, communications director for Smart Growth America in Washington, which cooperated on the report. “That trend syncs nicely with the goals for reducing carbon emissions.”

Highlands Village Green in Denver has witnessed that synchronization. Offering a wide range of housing types and price points, and placing them within walking distance of myriad services, the 30-acre community is flourishing. One indicator of its reduced carbon footprint (among many) is the fact that a 1.5 parking space allowance per household has not reached capacity. “Most residents here have only one car,” says Chuck Perry, managing partner of Perry Rose, the Denver office of New York–based Jonathan Rose Cos., the developer.

Many developers and builders are coming around to the benefits of compact development. More often, the hitch is public resistance. “I’m less concerned about the private sector than the public sector,” says Goldberg. “We are working to break through the inertia and help cities and agencies anticipate trends and realize that their policies are barriers.”

Thanks to an intensive consensus-building effort he spearheaded for Highlands Village Green, Perry created what he sees as the ultimate in sustainable living environments. “More diverse communities, like diverse ecosystems, are healthier,” he says.—R.B.

Better Environment?: Planning models such as Highlands Village near Denver offer high-density housing and nearby transit options to help reduce vehicle traffic, and therefore carbon emissions.