WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its most comprehensive review to date on how the built environment — the way we build our cities and towns — directly affects our environment and public health. The report was announced by EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe during a national Twitter Town Hall meeting in Washington, D.C., with Maurice Jones, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing, and Development (HUD), and John Porcari, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
The publication, “Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality,” provides evidence that certain kinds of land use and transportation strategies — where and how we build our communities — can reduce the environmental and human health impacts of development.
“Although findings might differ on the magnitude of the effects of different practices, the evidence is overwhelming that some types of development yield better environmental results than others,” the report asserts.
“This report will be useful for communities across the country looking to make smart development decisions,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “Whether it’s housing, transportation, or environmental issues, this report can help communities protect public health and the environment by avoiding harmful development strategies.”
The publication is important and timely because population growth and demographic changes will substantially alter the way our nation is developed over the next half century and beyond.
“Researchers have estimated that as much as two-thirds of the development that will exist in 40 to 45 years does not exist today,” the report states, “meaning that decisions we make about how and where that development occurs could significantly affect our health and the health of the environment.”
The report, the second edition of a popular document published in 2001, summarizes trends in land use, buildings, travel behavior, population growth, and the expansion of developed land. It then discusses the environmental consequences of these trends, such as habitat loss, degradation of water resources and air quality, urban heat islands, greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, and other health and safety effects. Environmental impacts linked to building and development patterns include:
• At least 850,000 acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams are thought to be impaired by stormwater runoff.
• Although technology has reduced per-car vehicle emissions, an approximate 250-percent increase in vehicle miles travelled since 1970 has offset potential gains.
• Transportation is responsible for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; residential and commercial buildings contribute 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
The report concludes by describing ways to reduce such effects. Strategies include safeguarding sensitive areas; focusing development in built-up areas and around existing transit stations; building compact, mixed-use developments; designing streets that are safe for all users, including walkers and bikers; and using green building techniques.
Through the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, EPA, HUD, and DOT coordinate federal investments in infrastructure, facilities, and services to get better results for communities and use taxpayer money more efficiently. Perciasepe, Jones, and Porcari held the town hall to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and talk with communities about how the federal government can be of assistance.
More information about the report and an upcoming webinar is available at www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/built.htm.
More information about the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is available at www.sustainablecommunities.gov.