Ewing's presentation, like the book, was very informative. He started by demonstrating the link between increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and an increase in world temperature. Ewing had some Chicago-specific data showing that the average temperature in Chicago has gone up significantly in the past 25 years.
After establishing the heavy contribution of the transportation sector to CO2 emissions, Ewing then focused on three factors that establish the level of those emissions: (1) vehicle fuel efficiency; (2) carbon content of the fuel used to power those vehicles; and (3) the miles covered by those vehicles. Ewing pointed out, like the authors of a study recently summarized here, that vehicle miles traveled have increased much faster than population growth. This VMT growth offsets the improvements in vehicle efficiency and the use of less carbon rich fuels, which leaves the transportation sector responsible for an unacceptably large and growing share of carbon emissions.
Ewing outlined how the Chicago area is sprawling and how that exurban growth is driving a VMT growth rate four times the rate of population growth. He said that the Chicago area has not done a good job of building up regional centers (e.g., Joliet, Waukegan) as relatively dense communities. He also said that his research shows that the Chicago area does not score well on measures of mixed use. In other words, the region is not generating the kind of walkable/bikeable communities where many of life's destinations (e.g., school, work, shopping) are a relatively short distance away from each other.
Ewing's central point is that the only way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the transportation sector is to replace sprawl with compact development. By replacing the current dominant form of suburban/urban development with more compact, mixed use communities we can cut down driving and hence carbon emissions significantly. Perhaps most provocatively, Ewing argues that the housing market is increasingly inclined in favor of higher density housing. If his charts are to be believed, then the value of the McMansions on the large lots is likely to stagnate at best in the years ahead while real estate in more compact areas should appreciate in value at a more robust rate.
Ewing believes, however, that one can't bet the future of the earth's environment on consumer preferences and real estate market trends. He stopped for questions before he could go through all of his federal, state and local policy recommendations. They are easily accessible in Growing Cooler.
During the Q&A session he did discuss two policy recommendations. The first is a carbon impact fee that would be imposed on developments that will generate high levels of CO2 emissions because of the VMTs required to utilize them. The second is a system for the regional transfer of development rights. This is a system designed to allow owners of farmland to collect some of the value in their land because of its development potential by transferring development rights to developers who could use the rights to build at a higher density elsewhere in the region, preserving the open space.
The seminar included short speeches by Sadhu Johnston, Chief Environmental Officer of the City of Chicago, and Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Johnston was a fount of relevant information, including:
- Per capita carbon emissions in Chicago is about 12 tons annually, compared to 7 tons in New York and 6 tons in London.
- Buildings account for 61 percent of carbon emissions in Chicago and transportation 20 percent. Transportation accounts for 32 percent of carbon emissions in the suburbs.
- The areas surrounding many Chicago Transit Authority and Metra stations in Chicago lack the kind of density associated with transit oriented development. The City is focusing on TOD around such rail stations.
- City residents save over $2 billion annually because they generate fewer VMTs on average.
- Some of the communities in the region are banding together in a Green Region Compact to address climate change issues.
Maybe Blankenhorn was having a bad day. Maybe he was keeping CMAP's sustainability agenda under wraps until next Tuesday's CMAP-sponsored Innovation + Integration Summit on "Creating a Regional Agenda to Address Climate Change." Let's sure hope so.
Two other notes from the MPC roundtable. First, the State of Illinois (e.g., Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois EPA) did not appear to have any representation at the roundtable, which is disappointing given the importance of the topic and the role State investment in infrastructure plays in creating or confounding compact development. The organizers also stated that MPC had organized a reception for legislators to meet Ewing that morning and only one legislator showed up. (Let's hope the MPC didn't make the mistake of inviting the legislators to a "special session" with Ewing!)
Second, the crowd was overwhelmingly white. How is it that this region is so diverse and the transportation professional sector is so unrepresentative of that diversity?