New Climate Report Misses Point on US Cities

Published September 26, 2014

The doubtful claim that low density US cities impose a cost to the economy of $400 billion is countered by their being the most affluent in the world. Nine of the top 10 cities in GDP per capita are in the US and more than 70% of the top 50. The highest GDP per capita city in the world is one of the least compact, Hartford, with an urban population density among the bottom 10 out of more the than 900 urban areas larger than 500,000 (See here and here).

Mobility is an important driver of economic performance. US cities have less traffic congestion, and shorter work trip travel times than their international peers (Los Angeles has the shortest work trip travel times of any megacity for which there is data). The key to this productivity is more dispersed residential and employment locations (less than 10% of jobs are downtown) and the less intense traffic congestion that is associated with such development. In the US, just as in Western Europe, commuting by car is much faster than by transit. The coming fuel efficiency improvements will narrow or eliminate the gap between personal vehicle and transit GHG emissions per passenger kilometer. US fuel efficiency standards are projected to reduce gross car GHG emissions by more than a quarter by 2040, according to the US Department of Energy. That’s before any de-carbonization.

The US has some of the best housing affordability in the world (excluding cities like San Francisco and Portland, where politically correct policies raise prices, lowering the standard of living and increasing poverty). The miniscule reductions from favored urban policies are exceedingly expensive per tonne and incapable of making a serious contribution to GHG emission reduction.

Maintaining the standard of living and reducing poverty requires cities that are mobile and affordable. It is important that GHG emissions reductions be chosen for their cost effectiveness, rather than consistency with expensive academic theories that long predate GHG emissions reduction concerns.


[Originally published at New Geography]