Atlantic Cities recently published an article called, “Beefing Up Population Density Won’t Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” And in it, they link to a really neat interactive map created at UC Berkeley that outlines the carbon emissions of nearly every zip code in America (2013 numbers).
Not surprisingly, it shows that urban folk generally have a much smaller carbon footprint as compared to suburbanites. Here’s what New York City looks like (green is lower carbon emissions and red is higher):
But the article also goes on to say that the solution is not to work towards increasing population densities in either urban centers or suburbs. And that, in fact, efforts to increase population densities in the suburbs would only make things worse—emission levels have been shown to only go up and then new suburbs end up getting formed around the intensified ones.
I understand the last point about endless suburbs, but I don’t fully understand this recommendation. Do carbon emissions go up in the suburbs when population densities are increased because it still remains car dependent and so all you have is more people driving?
Intuitively, it would seem that if more people stopped driving, shopped locally and lived in more compact spaces, carbon emissions would fall. But perhaps I’m missing something.
If anyone has any insights on this topic, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below or on twitter.