Historians may look back at this spring as a real turning point on global warming - a time when politicians, policymakers and planners began to take real action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency. And much of the action at the city and state level is manifesting in urban planning and land policy.
As New York Times environmental reporter Andy Revkin pointed out at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York this month, zoning has become a climate issue.
Climate change was the common theme and underlying issue at the American Planning Association conference earlier this month in Philadelphia, which drew over 6,000 planners, elected and appointed officials and others, on everything from transit-oriented development to form-based codes. Two-dozen big-city planners convened at the APA meeting by the Lincoln Institute agreed that climate action plans such as those in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, would be at the top of the municipal agenda. Over 450 mayors have signed on to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. "This is our time," said Washington, D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning, referring to cities on the front lines of climate change.
Initiatives underway in cities include such steps as replacing street and traffic lighting, instituting district energy systems for infill development, encouraging redevelopment near transit, and retrofitting older buildings to make them more energy efficient -- a move announced by Cambridge, Mass. last month.
On Earth Day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his long-range sustainability plan, including an $8 charge for motorists entering Manhattan below 86th Street, similar to London's congestion pricing system. The goal is to reduce auto emissions and create a fund for transportation projects. But PlaNYC, as it is being called, could serve as a model for other cities launching climate action plans. New York Times coverage is here.
In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick recently announced that the environmental impact review for major projects would now scrutinize emissions and energy use, including, for example, the amount of driving required to reach an new office park.
As this surge of policy change continues, London provides a useful model for its climate action plan. Debbie McMullen, head of The London Plan Team at the Greater London Authority, spelled out the sustainability planning last month in New York at a gathering of the Forum for Urban Design, co-sponsored by the Lincoln Institute.
McMullen appeared with Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of long term planning and sustainability for the city of New York. At a related meeting of American and British journalists and scholars comparing New York and London, the U.K. contingent gave London Mayor Ken Livingstone measured praise for the climate action plan, but worried about high costs for projects that are required, for example, to have on-site alternative energy systems.