Valuing Density: An Evaluation of the Extent to which American, Australian, and Canadian Cities Account for the Climate Benefits of Density through Environmental Review

International Comparative Analyses on Land Policy (Forthcoming)

NYU Law and Economics Research Paper Forthcoming

52 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2021

See all articles by Adalene Minelli

Adalene Minelli

New York University School of Law

Sara Savarani

New York University School of Law

Danielle Spiegel-Feld

New York University (NYU) - Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law

Katrina Wyman

New York University School of Law

Date Written: June 24, 2021

Abstract

This study looks at the extent to which major cities in the United States, Australia, and Canada assess the climate impacts of densification through the environmental review process. Research indicates that greater urban density is associated with lower household greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in high GDP countries. Yet there is reason to believe that cities may be taking a parochial approach to evaluating the climate impacts of rezonings in their environmental reviews that fails to consider the environmental costs of maintaining low density. In this study, we survey the legal and policy frameworks governing the environmental review in American, Australian, and Canadian cities to determine the extent to which they consider and analyze the GHG benefits of land use changes that increase urban density. We also analyze environmental review documents for proposals to increase residential density in cities to determine the extent to which policy makers have incorporated empirical knowledge regarding the relationship between density and GHGs emissions into their environmental reviews of proposed land use changes. We find that very few cities of those we surveyed use a formal environmental review process for analyzing the GHG impacts of land use changes. In addition, the small number of cities in our survey that analyze the GHG implications of land use changes do not appear to comprehensively consider the broader GHG benefits of densification. In fact, cities that assess the GHG impacts of zoning changes appear more likely to consider densification as causing climate harms rather than climate benefits.

Keywords: environment, land use planning, local government, planning, urban, urban development, urban sprawl, zoning

Suggested Citation

Minelli, Adalene and Savarani, Sara and Spiegel-Feld, Danielle and Wyman, Katrina, Valuing Density: An Evaluation of the Extent to which American, Australian, and Canadian Cities Account for the Climate Benefits of Density through Environmental Review (June 24, 2021). International Comparative Analyses on Land Policy (Forthcoming), NYU Law and Economics Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3873479 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3873479

Adalene Minelli

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Sara Savarani

New York University School of Law ( email )

Danielle Spiegel-Feld (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Rm. 411
New York, NY 10012
United States

Katrina Wyman

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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