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Wed, 07 Feb 2007
The Congress for the New Urbanism has released its new rating system for green urban neighbourhoods. To qualify, the neighbourhood must satisfy certain mandatory criteria like avoiding wetlands and flood plains. After that, there are points for things like walkable streets and diversity of uses.
The huge, gaping hole in the evaluation system is that it does not try to prevent self-selection of specific segments of the population, something that has turned so many well-meaning "green" strategies into unreproducible islands of meaningless statistics that make no dent in the problem or even make it worse.
What do I mean? If, for example, you take prime locations close to transit and develop them with all apartments. Those small households that already take transit will happily live there, and keep on taking transit. No change overall. But the larger households, who would only take transit if it is convenient, can no longer live near transit. You've actually increased their car use, but you will have fine statistics saying how everyone in your new development now uses transit.
To their credit, the New Urbanists address this indirectly when they have "affordable housing", "diversity of housing types", and "close to schools" as being worth a couple of points. Those should really be mandatory. To have any effect on sustainability, any project whose population does not have the same demographic characteristics as the city as a whole, and in particular that does not attract and change the behaviour of high energy users such as suburban families with two cars, is not a green one. Families will flee neighbourhoods that are too overtly compact or affordable, and then vow to keep that stuff out of their suburbs.