Smart growth communities have less impact on our global climate and effectively adapt to climate change
Communities that are compact and walkable, invest in infrastructure that works with the natural environment
It is becoming very clear that the choices we make regarding the built form and patterns of our communities have strong links to the climate change impacts and adaptation scenarios that they elicit. In a world with increasingly interdependent and dynamic socio-economic systems, the communities that are planning for resilience now will be best positioned to deal with climate change in the future.
Land use is the key factor affecting our quality of life. We can reduce transportation greenhouse gas emissions marginally through more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels, but the only way to really address the issue is to reduce the total amounts we drive. This can only be accomplished by more efficient land use and the development of compact, complete communities.
As they say, location is everything and in British Columbia, across Canada, and around the world, the most innovative community planners and most effective decision-makers are embracing the principles of ‘smart growth’ to help them achieve this resiliency. Smart growth communities are able to respond and adapt to both the direct (flooding and sea level rise) and indirect (cost of fuel and food) effects of climate change.
Creating smart growth communities means planning for the long term. Policy tools such as Official Community Plans (OCPs) and Regional Growth Strategies (RGS) create opportunities for communities across BC to incorporate smart growth principles into guiding the future development of communities to be more resilient and adaptable to climate change.
Currently, the planning process in BC requires that landscape hazards be identified and the location of a community’s future development considers these hazards. Flooding, sea level rise, avalanche risk, and other climate change scenarios could (and should) be incorporated into this planning process to ensure that future development occur in the safest places possible.
Recently, the Government of BC introduced new strategies and legislation that support the principles of smart growth and will encourage local and regional governments to grow smarter. These include the Brownfields Renewal Strategy, the Carbon Tax, Bill 27, and a revised Building Code. Once Bill 27 comes into force, local governments will be required to include GHG emission targets, policies and actions in their Official Community Plans and Regional Growth Strategies and will be able to use regulatory tools to promote energy and water conservation, and to waive or reduce charges for green development.
The research on urban form and climate change impacts and adaptation may be only beginning to emerge, but the links are already clear. Smart growth communities are more walkable, better able to provide efficient transit, which is increasingly important as the cost of fuel rises. They are surrounded by productive and protected farmlands to provide residents with increased food security. Carbon sinks such as forests, wetlands and other naturalized areas are conserved. They redirect and encourage a strong local economy by keeping small businesses in town centres alive and thriving.
Clearly, the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of climate-resilient communities tomorrow will be based on smarter growth today.