By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1, CNA LUTC Chair
“Our house is on fire; we should act like it.” Those are the words of Greta Thunberg. She’s the Swedish school-age climate activist known for protesting the inaction and insufficient response of governments to the threat of climate change. And she’s referring to the urgency to act on climate change immediately.
In Concordia, we’re certainly no strangers to the ill effects of climate change. Smoke from last summer’s wildfires caused us to shelter in place for two weeks. There is wide scientific consensus the wildfire season was worsened by global warming.
But if our house and our forests are metaphorically and literally on fire, what can we do about it?
One thing we can do is embrace urbanism. In this sense, urbanism describes the interaction between inhabitants of urban areas (that’s us) and their built environment (that’s the buildings and transportation systems that surround us).
The author Peter Calthorpe, in his book “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change,” finds the average American household today travels around 24,000 miles each year by car. The UrbanFootprint software that Peter and I codeveloped shows the average Concordia neighborhood household only drives 10,985 miles per year, or 62% less than the average American household.
That means that the average household here is:
- Consuming at least 62% less gasoline – 569 gallons rather than 1,482 – each year, assuming our vehicle fleet is exactly as efficient as the average American vehicle fleet. And that may not be the case. As city dwellers, our vehicles are likely to be more efficient
- Emitting 62% less in greenhouse gases – 4,731 pounds per person per year, rather than 11,182 pounds.
By the way, within the neighborhood, residents of the East district – between 33rd and 42nd avenues – drive the most each year, at 5,356 miles per person per year. Northwest district residents – west of 33rd Avenue and north of Killingsworth Street – drive 4,588 miles Southwest district residents drive the least, at 4,115 miles per year per person.
This all makes intuitive sense, as the Southwest district straddles Alberta Street, with all of its walkable destinations. The East district includes fewer sidewalks or retail destinations, and the Northwest district is just slightly farther away from everything.
These internal differences within the neighborhood are slight, however, compared to the 11,000 miles driven by the average American person each year.
Embracing urbanism means leaning into our low-carbon lifestyle. That’s made easy by the inherent high-quality urbanism of our neighborhood. By default, we’re encouraged to walk, ride bicycles, take transit and drive short trips for our most regular journeys.
For those of us with the means and the desire to do more, we can always do better. We can fuel switch our cars. And we can add solar panels to our roofs for space and water heating to move away from fossil fuels in our homes.
We can also welcome new neighbors to our neighborhood, confident every new resident of Concordia is somebody who is saying “yes” to the low-carbon urbanism that we already enjoy.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org.