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Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity


A recent financial analysis of Sacramento smart growth initiatives found that smart growth costs were nine billion dollars less than conventional development costs. This report, released by the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), explores the impact of implementing a wide range of smart growth planning and sustainability initiatives from across the country. Specifically, the report examines the economic and prosperity effects on return on investment, savings on expenditures, and improved quality of life. Knowing the potential economic benefits of smart growth planning can be a powerful tool in helping to make the case locally for such livability and sustainability initiatives.

Key Points

The economic benefits of increasing walkability on health, connectedness, and infrastructure of job opportunities are well documented. This study reiterates the overarching cost savings and gains with regard to sustainability. Though quality of living includes more than wealth, the report focuses on examining cost benefits using traditional measures.

Other highlights include:

  1. Economic benefits of smart growth planning include increasing the proximity of jobs, which also saves households money.
  2. Other ways the economy grows wealthier by implementing smart growth initiatives include the fact that walkability enhances property values, smart planning creates a “place-making premium” that enhances business investment, there is additional saving through environmental projects, transportation options increase overall value of properties, and reduced infrastructure costs and savings reduce the carbon footprint, which is less expensive in the long-term.
  3. The authors believe that by understanding the economic benefit, a “tipping point” can be generated as more and more private and public organizations realize the business case for livability and sustainability.
  4. Between 1977 and 2007, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) grew by 110 percent, while the population increased by 37 percent. Americans drove nearly 3 trillion miles in 2009 alone. All of this impacts CO2 emissions, health, congestion, and livability. Additionally, urban development is increasing and cities are becoming both larger and more compact. New transportation and transit options are proving less expensive than continuing to foster motor vehicles as the primary mode of transportation in cities.
  5. The ten key principles of smart growth also help environment sustainability (page 24).

How to Use

This report is full of specific examples of “ROI” related to smart growth initiatives. Making the economic argument for community planning and livability initiatives can mean the difference between public/private support, or the lack of it. Moreover, the interconnectedness between various departments, including housing, transportation, and the environment, demonstrates the link between livability planning initiatives, sustainability, and local prosperity. Local planners and leaders can use this document as a source of information for understanding the economic benefits of smart growth planning.

View full report: Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity (PDF – 15.2 MB)

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