Reducing GHGs makes Economic, Social and Ecological sense

Revelstoke, Ladysmith, Queen Charlotte City, many neighborhoods dotted across Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region - many BC communities have retained or revitalized vibrant, pedestrian friendly, residential/commercial centres that are intrinsically more sustainable.Smart growth approaches to land use can significantly reduce GHG emissions by reducing the amount people drive. But that’s not the only reason to adopt smart growth land use policies. There are considerable spin-off benefits associated with encouraging more compact, centered, complete and connected communities. Smart growth policies are an integrated way of meeting multiple community objectives and demands, including:  

Despite the many benefits of adopting smart growth policies, making changes to traditional land use patterns will evoke opposition from segments of the community. See Understanding Smart Growth Opposition below for more information.

Community Affordability

  • Across BC, there is growing demand and development of complete, compact neighborhoods: Langford’s Westhills, Chilliwack’s Garrison Crossing, Langley’s Murray’s Corner, Vancouver’s Oakridge Mall redevelopment, and Victoria’s ultra sustainable neighborhood, Dockside Green. / Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, BC.Living and working in the same community is increasingly sought after, as a compact community is more likely to offer convenient services, transportation choices, and local employment.  [7]
  • Suburban expansion, with larger homes on larger lots at the urban fringe increases "per unit" land costs.  A suburban housing stock is dominated by single family homes, more affordable choices such as apartments and townhomes are noticeably absent.  [1] 
  • Refer to the West Coast Environmental Law Smart Bylaws Guide for more on affordable housing and communities.

Healthy Residents

The health benefits of compact community lifestyles are well established.

  • Air pollution and ill health can be successfully mitigated with compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. [4]
  • Increased walking and biking, which improve human cardiovascular and respiratory health and reduce hypertension and obesity, is associated with mixed-use developments within walking distance of shops and services and connected streets [8] People living in such neighbourhoods can have a 35% lower risk of obesity. [5]
  • There is a consistent association between land use patterns and levels of physical activity; policy changes and public investment are being recommended to encourage the creation of more walkable communities. [8]

See Transportation Solutions for more information on benefits of active transportation.

Socially Vibrant Communities

It is abundantly clear that sustainable land development is not a cost to business; it brings value to developers, life and community and is absolutely necessary to tackle the significant environmental issues we area facing.

Joe VanBelleghem, Developer of Award Winning Dockside Green, Victoria BC

"What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people," according to William Whyte, a legendary advocate for public spaces.  People want to be part of a vibrant public realm where other people gather. See Project for Public Spaces for more on public spaces and vibrancy.

When people meet one another on the street, they build a sense of community and trust that translates into higher social capital. Canadian community thinker Jane Jacobs noted in Death and Life of Great American Cities that defined, walkable neighborhoods with higher densities, mixed uses and a remarkable public realm bring people out on the streets and create a sense of community. [4]

Time spent driving alone in automobiles erodes the strength of our communities. Robert Putnam reveals in Bowling Alone: "each additional ten minutes spent in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent". [4]

Accommodate Changing Demographics and Market Demand

  • Over the next 25 years the number senior citizens in BC will double.  This means more households with fewer people, different housing requirements, and demand for close access to services. [1]
  • 25 - 33% of American home buyers prefer infill, mixed-use, and transit-oriented neighborhoods.  This demand is expected to grow as the population ages, with similar market demands and trends in Canada. [7]
  • Empty nesters and young singles, two rapidly growing demographic groups, are choosing multi-family housing over single-family housing. [2]
  • Demand exceeds supply of compact, mixed, multi-modal neighbourhoods and more active transportation environments. [6]

Investment in Compact Communities

  • Containing sprawl is not only local governments' greatest climate protection challenge; it is a critical economic imperative. The Conference Board of Canada's major treatise, Mission Possible: Sustainable Prosperity for Canada, underscores how Canada's overall competitiveness is undermined because of the inefficiency, congestion, and costly infrastructure associated with sprawl. [10]
  • Smart growth is a low-cost climate change strategy. It generally involves redirecting investments that will be made anyway. Identifying optimal places for new development will reduce greenhouse gases, strengthen the economic vitality of a community, and reduce maintenance costs for infrastructure and services. [7]
  • Adding population to an existing area creates an economy of scale with lower infrastructure installation costs for developers, and lower infrastructure operational costs for local governments. Low-density development leads to higher public and private development costs than compact, mixed-use development. [1] Property taxes and development fees are generally inadequate to finance a community's full life cycle costs to deliver infrastructure and services to low-density, residential development. West Coast Environmental Law's Smart Bylaws Guide, the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute and CMHC provide public investment and infrastructure cost studies.

Community Economic Development

  • The Conference Board of Canada predicts that the competitive advantage of cities and regions that are less dependent on oil and gas for transportation will continue to strengthen, given rising oil prices driven by declining conventional oil reserves and increasingly costly extraction. [9]
  • A high "quality of place" is a top factor for attracting high tech workers and firms associated with the knowledge economy, to communities and regions, according to leading urban analyst Richard Florida  The quality of place and strength of social capital is a function of complete, compact communities. [3]
  • Concentration of land uses is a key factor for the success of eco-industrial networks, advocated for by the Conference Board of Canada as a promising economic development trend.  [10]
  • Mixed-use, compact neighbourhoods and downtowns are hubs for the local economy.
  • Clustered and concentrated development allows protection of ecologically important lands for community needs like outdoor recreation, forestry, and agriculture. 

Understanding Smart Growth Opposition

Despite a sound body of research and built examples behind smart growth, there is significant inertia and a whole web of policies an practices favouring conventional development.  Much opposition is based on misunderstandings.  Understanding opposition is instructive for advancing the agenda. For more information refer to Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth.

[Use the tabs above to learn HOW you can reduce emissions in land use.]

[1], Deborah Curran, 2003.  Smart Bylaws Guide Summary, West Coast Environmental Law

[2] Campoli and MacLean, 2007, Visualizing Density, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

[3] Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2002.  Bridging the Innovation Gap: Count Cities, in Curran, Smart Bylaws Guide Summary, West Coast Environmental Law,

[4]   Design, Community & Environment, Dr. Reid Ewing, Lawrence Frank and Company, Inc and Dr. Richard Kreutzer, 2007.  Understanding the Relationship between Public Health and the Built Environment, A Report Prepared for the LEED-ND Core Committee,  

[5] BC Healthy Living Alliance. Physical Activity Strategy. March 2007.

[6] Lawrence Frank, Sarah Kavage and Todd Litman prepared for Smart Growth BC, Promoting Public Health through Smart Growth, 

[7] Ewing, Bartholomew, Winkelman, Walters, and Chen, 2002.  Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, Smart Growth America. 

[8] J. Kerr, 2008.  Designing for Active Living Among Adults, Spring 2008 Research Summary, Active Living Research,

[9] Golden and Brendner, 2007, Sustainable Urban Transportation: A Winning Strategy for Canada, Conference Board of Canada,  

[10] Conference Board of Canada, 2008, Mission Possible: Sustainable Prosperity for Canada