Environmental Characteristics of Smart Growth Neighborhoods
An Exploratory Case Study
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE STUDIES
One of the objectives of this exploratory case study was determining criteria for improving potential future studies. Based on the Sacramento experience, these recommendations include:
Level of Effort
- This exploratory study had a budget that equated to approximately 1.25 person-months (about 215 hours) of paid consultant labor, which restricted the ability to examine several important issues in detail. (Actual labor effort was somewhat higher due to volunteered time and the contributions of NRDC staff.) A more appropriate level of effort is probably three to four person-months of consultant labor, especially if impacts such as travel demands, stormwater runoff, or embodied energy are to be quantified with precision.
- As part of any larger budgets, future studies should include sufficient resources for conducting household travel diary surveys at project sites. The travel demands of "smart" neighborhood design are among its most hotly contested impacts, and detailed household travel diaries constitute the best available method for definitively characterizing project performance.
- Multiple communities should be selected to represent a variety of environmental settings, ranging from highly urbanized to suburban.
- An absolute prerequisite should be a well-established local GIS with a database in place describing land-use, housing, employment, transportation, and infrastructure conditions.
- It is strongly desirable to have a regional household travel survey no older than five years. Recent regional statistics are useful as "context" for the household diaries described above.
- The local water system should have customer meters in order to easily quantify consumption.
- A variety of "smart" and conventional designs should be analyzed, including residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects of varying sizes.
- Projects to be compared should be as socioeconomically matched as possible, e.g. households of similar sizes and incomes.
- Projects should be fully occupied by households and/or employees for at least one year in order to accurately gauge their environmental performance.
- It is especially important that project occupants are available for, and agreeable with, participation in a travel diary survey.
- Consideration should be given to studying projects that have already been investigated for other reasons in order to build on an established information base. An example is the 1999 Urban Land Institute study "Valuing the New Urbanism" that looked at six projects in detail and, in the process, created the beginning of a valuable database from which environmental studies could be leveraged.
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Kaid Benfield writes about development, community and the environment on Switchboard.
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