Actions for Land Use




Planning Smart: Local Government’s Key to Cutting Emissions

Neighborhood Centre Plan View / HB Lanarc, 2008Local government authority over land use can play a vital role in tackling climate change. Land use patterns and associated transportation networks are directly related to emission growth. In particular, transportation emissions are BC’s largest source of emissions, and they’re rapidly growing.

Of transportation emissions in BC, the largest percentage share is passenger vehicles. Moving to more fuel efficient vehicles and cleaner fuel sources are important steps in reducing GHG emissions, but local governments have limited jurisdiction in these areas. Local governments can, however, help people drive less by encouraging smart growth development. Compared to conventional, low-density single-use development, smart growth reduces the amount people drive by 20 to 40 %. This translates into an 18-36% reduction in GHGs emissions compared to a business-as-usual scenario. [1]

...given the real choice, we would much rather invest in well-located real estate than in gasoline.
Smart Growth America President and CEO Geoff Anderson and Reconnecting America President and CEO Shelly Poticha, co-chairs of Transportation for America Campaign

A smart growth approach to land use policy is not one-size-fits-all, and different communities will have different opportunities to encourage smart growth development and reduce GHG emissions. (See Smart Growth Strategies For Urban, Suburban, Small and Rural Communities below.) However, four common characteristics of smart growth land use especially effective in helping reduce GHG emissions. They are Compact, Centered, Complete and Connected, and these concepts are readily adaptable to most communities.

Common Characteristics of Smart Growth to Reduce GHG Emissions

This figure outlines several factors in urban form and how they impact travel modes that people choose. / Frank, Kavage and Litman for Smart Growth BC, 2006


  • Low density development is auto-dependent development. In particular, transit service is considered not viable without a residential density of at least 6-7 dwelling units per acre.
  • Increasing residential densities can be a political third rail. However, density comes in different forms. Infill and brownfield development can be good places to start.


  • The closer that people are to the places they want to go, the less they need to drive. Concentrated areas of employment, commercial and other activities and destinations (cafes, restaurants, corner stores, parks) make a commercial area busy and successful. This also makes active transportation possible and attractive, cutting down on GHG emissions and making people healthier.


  • Mixing land uses, including residential, commercial, institutional and light industrial makes communities more self-contained, increasing the opportunities for people to live, work and entertain themselves within a smaller geographic area
  • Fosters a more inclusive community by providing a variety of lifestyle, housing, economic and cultural opportunities


  • Fine-grained street network makes getting from Point A to B more efficient, helping cut driving time and distances
  • Streets are designed to support an integrated, multi-modal transportation system

Complete Streets is an organization providing guidance, resources, and a network of experts on complete streets policy and implementation.

Smart Growth Strategies For Urban, Suburban, Small and Rural Communities

Community size and context influences the choice of low carbon land use strategies.

Urban context

  • Redevelop and infill existing neighbourhoods
  • Improve design features
  • Diversify transportation options, increasing accessibility for walking, cycling, transit [2]

Suburban context

  • Develop existing suburban neighbourhoods, and/or master-plan neighboring developments – apply medium density, mixed-use centres and sustainability corridors
  • Make communities more complete with more services and employment
  • Improve transportation choices: cycling, ridesharing, transit [2]

Small Town and Slow-Growth Context

  • Revitalize key areas such as downtown, and channel services into walkable centres
  • Ensure planning processes are proactive so that if a development proposal does come forward, it can be reviewed in the context of an overall community vision. This will build pride and identity, identify a range of actions including quick wins and help to ensure that the right development occurs in the right places.
  • Develop local government tools and policies to:
    • provide certainty about where new growth will occur
    • direct public investments such as institutions, parks, public realm improvements to existing centres
    • build local economic development capacity and opportunities. The Centre for Community Enterprise website is a good resource.
  • Improve transportation options: cycling, ridesharing

[Use the tabs above to learn WHY this sector is important in GHG management and HOW you can reduce emissions in land uses.]

[1] These figures are based on a meta analysis of numerous US studies. They may not precisely extrapolate to Canada. The underlying development patterns, nevertheless, are very similar. Source: Ewing, Bartholomew, Winkelman, Walters, and Chen, 2002. Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, Smart Growth America. (introduction and summary available online)

[2] Victoria Transportation Policy Institute,

Other resources:

Campoli and MacLean, 2007. Visualizing Density, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy,

Environmental Law Clinic, University of Victoria Faculty of Law, and Deborah Curran and Company, 2007. Green Bylaws Toolkit for Conserving Sensitive Ecosystems and Green Infrastructure,

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