Changes Spark Interest in Sustainable Urban Places: But How Do We Identify and Support Them?

42 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2013 Last revised: 14 Nov 2013

See all articles by John R. Nolon

John R. Nolon

Pace University School of Law

Date Written: 2013


Changes in climatic and demographic trends are sparking renewed interest in cities generally and sustainable communities particularly. On the one hand, residents and workers in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods served by transit have half the carbon footprint of those in spread-out suburban areas. On the other hand, many of the smaller households that characterize the nation’s growing population prefer to live in precisely those compact, mixed-use neighborhoods. In New York, these changes align with several new state policies that encourage cities and towns to reduce carbon emissions, reduce vehicle travel, create sustainable buildings and neighborhoods, and preserve the landscapes that sequester nearly twenty percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. These three shifts – climatic, demographic, and political – create opportunities for older cities and towns to revitalize themselves, while creating new roles for smaller, rural communities. After describing these trends, this article reviews the nascent movement to certify sustainable communities, noting that existing programs measure mainly the behavior of municipalities as building and vehicle fleet owners and educators of the public. These certification systems need to expand to measure how well local governments use their legal authority to control private sector development so that the millions of new homes and billions of square feet of commercial buildings needed to serve the growing population are sustainable. The article describes the creation of a certification system that measures and rewards municipal planning, regulation, and incentives that ensure the sustainability of future development in areas that should host much of the expanding population and of those areas where conservation should predominate.

Keywords: climate change, municipal, rural, urban

Suggested Citation

Nolon, John R., Changes Spark Interest in Sustainable Urban Places: But How Do We Identify and Support Them? (2013). Fordham Urban Law Journal, 2013. Available at SSRN:

John R. Nolon (Contact Author)

Pace University School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

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