A Sustainable City With Cars And Low-Density Homes? It's Possible

Eric Jaffe | The Atlantic Cities | June 28, 2013

The core problem of creating sustainable cities is as well-known as it is tricky. On the one hand, everyone who's thoughtful about urban sustainability admits the environmental, economic, and social problems of sprawl and auto-dependency. On the other hand, everyone who's realistic about the situation must admit that people are crazy about their cars and pretty keen on low-density, single-family homes, too.

Most of the modern attempts to reconcile this problem, at least in U.S. metropolitan areas, create more problems of their own. Smart growth initiatives to increase densification, reduce car use are often met with vehement objections — some irrational, some genuine — on the grounds of personal choice. Often these efforts are simply ignored by local government. Meanwhile, promoting livability through public transit can run into financial and political hurdles too tall to overcome.

For these reasons and others, Mark Delucchi and Kenneth S. Kurani of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis aren't so sure we're going about these solutions the right way. They believe that car ownership is so desirable that any effort to address sustainability must embrace it, rather than defy it. They also believe that what's so pernicious about modern sprawl is not the cars themselves, per se, but their "high kinetic energy" — in simple terms, their size and speed.