As cities continue to expand, the focus of climate change shifts to the suburbs

You might think that a crowded city with dense roads and high-rise buildings is not good for the environment and not good for coping with climate change.

However, a long-established principle of environmental economics is that although most of the land under the urban core is stolen from nature, the city provides ecological benefits. Gathering people in one place, called “densification”, makes carbon-friendly public transportation work.It also allows us to centralize services such as sewage treatment and Energy system.

Perhaps most importantly, environmentalists hope that by concentrating people in vibrant cities such as London, New York, Montreal, and Vancouver, they can alleviate the pressure on the surrounding green spaces, which are vital to maintaining a healthy environment.

But there are more and more signs that these hopes have been dashed, and COVID-19 is only making things worse. Climate scientists say that now is the time to consider this.

Space race

“In the early 2000s, there was a lot of discussion about returning to the city. Millennials and baby boomers wanted to return and chose cities instead of suburbs, but this was a little bit wrong,” said Hannah Techer, a researcher at the university. Said Victoria Pacific Climate Solutions Institute, British Columbia.

In the well-known space pandemic race-Canadians work, go to school, and entertain themselves in suddenly overcrowded homes-Statistics Canada released data showing that instead of rushing into the city, it is better to use the vitality and services of the city. People moved out.

Earlier this year, a residential area under construction on the outskirts of Kanata, Ottawa. Climate scientists say that as the spread continues, we must make the suburbs more climate-friendly. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canada Press)

“Urban expansion continues, and population loss in the surrounding areas of Toronto and Montreal is at a record high,” Report from the Bureau of Statistics in mid-January.

In June, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced “The first ever environmental census,” Statistics Canada’s plan aims to quantify the country’s green spaces and how quickly they are being industrialized and urbanized.

For Statistics Canada researchers working on the new census (including the project’s research manager François Soulard), one of the difficult things is how to give economic value to the benefits they provide.

Green returns and profits

“We know that ecosystems provide the goods and services we rely on every day, but we usually don’t notice this,” Soulard said in an email conversation on Friday.Before crises such as the hot dome or deadly flooding in Western Canada, factors such as air quality, carbon sequestration, flood protection, and heat mitigation were rarely compared to the profitability of real estate development—especially when Canadians Need more single-family homes.

In fact, some analysts, including the real estate industry, said that the solution to the housing shortage is Cut red tape and let builders build.

According to new research published last week by Teicher and two colleagues, if the trend of staying away from the city center continues, some efforts to combat climate change must be urgently transferred from the city to the suburbs.

Although the authors still believe that urban densification is better for the environment, their paper-titled Climate solutions to cope with the surge in suburbs: use COVID-19 to restore and strengthen suburban climate governance -Resolved the reality that the spreading trend will be difficult to stop in Canada and the United States.

Teicher said in an interview on Friday that the only pragmatic solution is to develop policies to mitigate the worst effects of suburban and suburban sprawl.

Make burbs better

“We will not turn the suburbs into cities. The development of the suburbs will continue. The question is how to redevelop the existing suburbs to a certain extent and how to make the new suburbs better,” she said.

For the new suburbs, one technique is to build around the ecological products and services mentioned by Soulard so that they can continue to provide economic and climate benefits. Teicher said this requires the development of rules that require developers to protect watersheds, wetlands and forests instead of paving roads on them.

Watch | Montrealers are leaving the island for the suburbs:

A CMHC report stated that the demand for housing in the suburbs has increased. Debra Arbec talked with economist Francis Cortellino about the reasons why Montrealers left the city. 5:06

Part of the solution is to increase the density of the suburbs, similar to the promotion of the existing urban core, where it is called “Socialism for the rich“Although the cost of all taxpayers is high, large single-family houses have become sacred.

Teicher’s research points out that in Vancouver and the suburbs around Portland, Oregon, what she calls “moderate densification” has already occurred because owners have been allowed to build more housing on existing suburban plots.

Other suggestions include stopping the trend of increasing per capita space in suburban buildings — a trend that may be exacerbated by the pandemic’s desire for larger living space — and making suburban housing more energy-efficient.

Teicher’s research shows that adhering to the rules of better insulation and airtight structures can make the use of solar energy and ground-source heat pumps to produce local energy in suburban areas more practical.

In 2015, BC Research provided a sign for sale of farmland in the south of Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, and found that in the suburbs surrounding Vancouver, because owners were allowed to build more housing on existing suburban plots, there was a “moderate densification”. (Julie Gordon/Reuters)

A trend that has occurred is that the suburbs have developed their own high-rise commercial centers, combined with Epidemic Store Local Campaign, May mean fewer polluting cars heading to the city center or shopping malls.

“In the global climate arena, cities have received a lot of attention,” Teichel said. “I think we need to give equal attention to the suburbs.”

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter @don_pittis

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