Growing Cooler: "I just wanted my life back"

As we’ve highlighted this week, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change is out in its final, sharp-looking book form. Released in a preliminary technical form last fall, the book has been revised, updated, and published as a beautiful hardcover book, replete with informative graphics, pictures and illustrations.

The crux? It will be nearly impossible to avert climate change unless we can curb the growth in the miles we all drive. That, in turn, is nearly impossible if we continue to build so as to give ourselves no other choice. Even our most ambitious plans for improving mileage and efficiency for our vehicles will be overwhelmed by the increases in driving our communities require.

But Growing Cooler is not just a book of dire predictions of skyrocketing emissions and climate change. It contains some truly good news: People do drive about a third less in compact, walkable places, with no coercion at all. And according to the market and demographic research amassed for the book, merely meeting the surging demand for these environments could significantly reduce the growth in the number of miles Americans drive, shrinking the nation’s carbon footprint while giving people more living options.

NPR Growing Cooler
NPR brings us the human faces of Growing Cooler from Atlanta.

To illustrate the point of Growing Cooler, consider these two parts of NPR’s ongoing Climate Connection series that aired this week. The first part, (notably labeled “Causes,”) profiles a family that once lived in the city, but now endures massive commutes to their respective jobs in Atlanta after purchasing a larger home far away. The Carvalhos fall right into the middle of the bell-shaped curve of commuting Atlantans, where the average resident with a job drives 66 miles each day:

So, while the Carvalhos feel the blows their lifestyle delivers to their budget, they’re not as aware of its impact on global climate change. “I never really thought about it,” Galileu said. “Because we get so caught up with day-to-day activities, that we do what we need to do to get through that day.”

After choosing a place that dictates a large amount spent on gas and utilities, it is difficult to figure out ways to cut energy costs or reduce driving. But the second story profiles another family that discovered a way to do both, personifying the potential outlined in Growing Cooler.

Atlantic Station, courtesy of Jacoby Development Co.
Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Ga.

Malaika Taylor and her daughter Maya, weary of the same tiring commutes in Atlanta as the Carvalhos, looked for a place to live near the city where they could spend more time with each other and less time in the car each day. Even in Atlanta, the market has begun responding to pent-up demand, and they found a home in Atlantic Station, an enormous new project near midtown with houses, townhomes, condos, offices, retail and parks, built on the reclaimed site of a formerly polluted steel mill. According to EPA research cited in Growing Cooler, residents of Atlantic Station drive about two-thirds less than their Atlanta neighbors, resulting in huge benefits to local air quality and overall emissions.

Of course, Taylor’s move wasn’t motivated by a desire to avert climate change; “she just wanted her life back.” So she moved into Atlantic Station, just a mile from her job. And just like that, while moving to a place that allowed her to drive less, spend more time with her daughter, live close to her job and daily needs, Taylor and her daughter drastically reduced their carbon footprint. The issue remains, though, that a lot of people who want to live in places like Atlantic Station can’t find a similar option, because there is an undersupply of convenient, walkable neighborhoods that can make them difficult to find, and often more expensive.

Simply changing our development patterns and meeting the demand for the lifestyle that Malaika Taylor was seeking — while also making it a clear alternative for those without a strong preference — will be key in helping us meet our goals for reducing oil dependence and mitigating climate change.