California Densifying

California has decided it needs to densify all of its cities to meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets. The state’s goal is to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. Since the state’s leaders don’t believe fuel efficiencies and other energy economies will be sufficient, they want to reduce per capita driving by 12 percent.

California already has the densest urban areas in the United States. The 2010 census found that, among urban areas (areas above 50,000 in population), Los Angeles is first at 7,000 people per square mile. San Francisco-Oakland is second at 6,266, San Jose is 5,820, while New York is a distant fourth at 5,320. The average density of all California urban areas was 4,577, more than any other state except New York, whose average density was just slightly above that at 4,580. California’s average was nearly twice the rest of the nation whose urban area densities averaged 2,347 per square mile. Remember, these are urban areas, not cities.

The idea that increased densities will reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions is an urban-planning fantasy that the legislature has imposed on the state’s residents. The state’s population is expected to grow by 4.5 million by 2030, and if every single one of those people settles in an urban area, the densities will increase to around 5,200 people per square mile. While people drive a lot less in New York City (not the urban area), whose density is 25,000 people per square mile, increasing densities to 5,200 people per square mile isn’t going to much change travel habits. As University of California Irvine economist David Brownstone says, the effect of density on driving is “too small to be useful” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Density has a major effect on another variable: housing prices. A paper by Issi Romem of Buildzoom.com points out, no city has been able to contain itself within urban limits and, within those limits, built enough dense housing to keep housing affordable. Dense housing is simply more expensive than low-density housing: the land is more expensive, construction is more expensive, and labor in more expensive housing markets is more expensive. Basically, he concludes, regions have a choice between becoming more expensive or more expansive.

California has clearly chosen the more-expensive course. This not only harms low-income people, it makes it more difficult to get denser because people don’t want to move to a state they can’t afford to live in. So I expect that California is going to miss any targets it sets for reducing per capita driving, though it might meet its emissions targets simply by driving away of lot of potential emitters.

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5 thoughts on “California Densifying

  1. LazyReader

    I’m pro environment, but I’m anti BS. As long as China is exempt from the treaties, it don’t amount to nothing. China is not only the world’s largest emitter of CO2 with a 29% share but also now exceeds the emissions on a per capita basis by the 28 countries in the European Union. The United States in 1992 was the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and still is the largest on a per capita basis. But since 1992, China has grown from 3% to 30% of world’s annual CO2 emissions. China now produces twice the U.S. amount, triple the EU amount. The principal argument for nuclear power is the climate change argument; the fact it’s atmospherically clean producing no greenhouse gases and no particulates. Another factor is nuclear is the only power source that can replace coal on a gigawatt for gigawatt basis. And the final factor is going to be the demographics of future energy consumption [80% of the worlds fossil fuel reserves exist in third world nations; and no amount of money or treaties and signature petitions is gonna force them to not exploit it; they will drill it, mine it, burn it no matter what we do]. World population shows no signs of stopping and urbanization doesn’t either. Energy density and 24/7 power supply which is what you need to run cities. The world is now half cities (up from 14% in 1900); it’s gonna be 60% urban people by 2030, it’s gonna be 80% urban people by 2050. That’s 7 billion people living in cities. And meeting their energy needs can’t be met with combustion for cooking, heating and lighting and still retain clean air and lungs, in the absence of electricity, they’ll burn wood or charcoal (which is the principal cause of deforestation in Africa and Asia), in the absence of wood, they’ll burn paper, garbage or dung which is the principle cause of death in third world nations after communicable diseases. And renewable power is only electricity. US energy consumption alone; only 28% of US energy consumption is electricity. That’s 72% for everything else (Heating, cooking, industry, non-electric lighting, transportation). So to replace all US energy consumption, renewable power would FIRST, have to provide all current US electric needs (which it doesn’t) then SECOND, convert everything that’s non electric to electric which more than triples the demand for power; Providing all of New York City energy demands, you’d have to cover New England with wind turbines; but how you gonna power Buffalo or Rochester or Albany, Boston and Hartford? A typical nuclear plant covers less than 200 acres and you can power an entire county.

  2. JOHN1000

    Great post by LazyReader.

    “Providing all of New York City energy demands, you’d have to cover New England with wind turbines; but how you gonna power Buffalo or Rochester or Albany, Boston and Hartford?” Well, at least we won’t have to worry about Boston and Hartford which will be gone as their land will be needed for turbines.

    But we all know that clear-cutting millions of acres of trees for turbines and transmission towers is somehow being “green” and saving the planet.

  3. Frank

    “A typical nuclear plant covers less than 200 acres and you can power an entire county.”

    A typical nuclear power plant is problematic. You know, earthquakes and tsunamis. Terrorists.

    Small nuclear reactors hold promise, though, and each one can power 20,000 houses safely.

  4. Jardinero1

    @Frank, “Typical Nuclear Power Plants” do very well as far as earthquakes and Tsunamis go. For example, at Fukushima, to date, there have been no deaths directly attributable to radiation. No, the problem is one of cost, not safety and not scale. Nuclear plants cost too much because of the regulatory hurdles required to permit, build and operate them. There also is no free market for the creation and implementation of new types of plants like the the one(4Gen) you cite. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission functions like a Soviet design bureau permitting only certain types of plants to be designed or built. Companies like Gen4 have zero chance of getting their product to market because the NRC refuses to even consider new designs. If the oil industry was regulated the way the NRC regulates nuclear energy, we would all be peddling bicycles, in the dark, because they never would have allowed the development or implementation of 3d seismic sensing, directional drilling or fracking.

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