Researchers presented findings at the Congress for the New Urbanism annual conference that show substantial energy savings from higher-density urbanism — greater savings than can be achieved from the US government Energy Star program.
As the chart on the left shows (if you can read it — sorry it’s so small), even small increases in density can yield substantial energy savings; increasing residential density from 3 housing units per acre to 6 units per acre actually saves more energy than the average efficiency boost provided by Energy Star appliances.
Now, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since it’s been well established for decades that people who live in compact neighborhoods drive much less than people who live in more sparsely populated suburbs. Still, it’s an important reminder: Neighborhood design is a powerful determinant of how much energy we use.
But for some reason, when people talk about making our transportation system more fuel efficient, they typically talk about improving the efficiency of vehicles, rather than of neighborhoods. Efficient vehicles have a high-tech cachet, I guess. But if anything, efficient neighborhoods are even more important than efficient vehicles. Hybrids and biodiesel vehicles do save fossil fuels and reduce pollution, obviously; but by reducing how much people need to drive, efficent neighborhoods not only save fuel, but also reduce other costly externalities, ranging from highway spending to car crashes.