HousingPolicy.org Forum


Not Just Where, but How and What: the case for location efficient development

Tuesday, May 24 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern/11:00 a.m. Pacific

This webinar will highlight findings from the report Location Efficiency and Housing Type- Boiling it Down to BTUs and explain the significance of this research for communities around the country.  We will discuss innovations in architecture and urban design that encourage sustainable development in the suburbs and focus on strategies that policymakers, planners, practitioners and advocates can use to ensure affordability in these location efficient areas.  

Danielle Arigoni of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ellen Dunham-Jones of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Daniel Hernandez and Matthew Lister of Jonathan Rose Companies will be speaking.  


Click here to view the recording from the webinar event. (Note that because of the large file size, the webinar recording make take several minutes to load.)

Speaker presentation slides are also available:

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Likely won't be able to do this webinar, but a couple of quesitons/comments.


1) Why are multi-family buildings defined as five or more units buildings?  The usual definition is four, or even three in Wisconsin.


2) The definition of sustainable design has to include Universal Design because of the accessibility needs of our population.  A household that has to spend money on a ramp and extensive modifications in the home, or be forced into a costly move because of the inaccessible unit, is not being very sustainable.  Universally designed homes are much more adaptable to the specific accessibility needs of people with disabilities and elderly people, and the rest of the population often appreciate the smart design principles behind Universal Design.



This new report shows that land use is a huge determinant of energy use – both for buildings and for transportation. When energy saving best practices (for cars and buildings) are combined with buildings located in transit-oriented locations, the location factor provides more than 50% of the total energy savings achieved. But, there are powerful economic causes for sprawl, and these must be addressed if we hope to replace "dumb growth" with “smart growth.”

The post WWII infrastructure investments that subsidized sprawl were not simply bad “design” choices. They were also a response to the strangle-hold that real estate speculators and landlords had on the urban population – charging high rents for dismal housing and inadequate commercial space. Extending water, sewer and other utilities into adjacent farmland was an escape valve – providing access to cheap land. Yet, as infrastructure was extended, real estate speculation followed, inflating suburban land prices.  As development moved to cheaper but more remote locations, infrastructure would follow, inflating land values and generating more leap-frog development and sprawl.

Today, we know that facilitating the development of cheap land, at ever more remote locations, has a tremendous cost in terms of pollution and traffic congestion (not to mention collisions that kill about 40,000 people annually in the USA). It has a tremendous cost in terms of non-renewable energy consumption. It spoils land that would be more appropriate for agricultural, recreational or conservation use. It exponentially expands impervious surfaces that ruin streams and rivers with stormwater runoff. And, due to the enormously extensive network of roads, sewers, water mains, utilities, schools, etc., it comes at a very high fiscal cost in terms of large per capita tax burdens and transportation costs.

But, unless we address the real estate speculation and landlord oligopolies that place “smart growth” locations out of economic reach, we will have little success. (Maryland has been a pioneer in smart-growth laws and regulations. Yet an analysis published by the National Center for Smart Growth in January 2011, showed that these policies had no discernable impact on development patterns at this time.)

Transforming the traditional property tax into a value-capture user fee could be a potent tool for accomplishing several important and inter-related smart-growth goals. By reducing the tax rate on building values and increasing the tax rate on land values, both urban land and urban buildings would become more affordable for residential and commercial users. Because many public goods and services generate higher land values, value capture allows these services to become self-financing. Shifting taxation onto land values creates an economic imperative to develop high-value land (instead of hoarding it for speculation). More intense development of high-value land (typically land near transit and other urban infrastructure) would reduce development pressure at more remote sites. Lower taxes on building values would reduce the cost of weatherization and other energy-efficiency improvements along with other maintenance, improvement and preservation activities, fostering local jobs. Over time (and in conjunction with improved, planning, zoning and architectural standards), ensuing infill development would make cities more compact. This would reduce the number and distance of daily trips and make more trips suitable for walking, cycling, transit or other forms of shared transportation.

For more information, see the attached article “Using Value Capture to Finance Infrastructure and Encourage Compact Development.” For information about additional economic incentives for implementing smart growth, see http://www.justeconomicsllc.com



Between Cleveland and Arlington, what is the affordablity of the housing?  I see a reduction in VMT, which will create a cost savings for households, but I didn't see data on affordable housing.  TODs are great, but tend to be unaffordable to lower-income households that would most benefit from reduced VMT.
Danielle, Do you have any more details, timelines, on new measurement initiative that you mentioned in your presentation?
Danielle: In directing development to existing communtiies, has the EPA (or EPA in partnership with DOT and HUD) made any concerted effort to combine smart growth measures with NSP and neighborhood stabilization efforts?
The evidence on whether families are moving "back to the city" seems mixed, depending on who you ask.  Thoughts on this?


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