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The Hope of New Urbanism:
Energy Conservation and Sustainability
Through Urban Design

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Related Working Papers, Reports

#10-01 - The Hope of New Urbanism: Energy Conservation and Sustainability through Urban Design - Appendices

#09-01 - Urban Design, Environmental Consciousness, and Sustainable Communities: Can New Urbanism Reduce Driving in Auto Friendly Los Angeles?


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What is this Project?

This research is a two-year pilot study funded by the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation that builds on an elemental question between the linkage of urban design and environmental sustainability. We investigate whether a well known form of residential design known as New Urbanism can achieve energy efficiency through the provision of a more cohesive and compact form of development that facilitates live/work spaces, “walkable” communities, and planned access to everyday amenities. Specifically, we are interested in the question of whether urban design can impact the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as an indicator of overall level of highway and automobile usage, and a directly related source of energy consumption (i.e., gasoline) and emissions from mobile sources. Can residential design be a determinant in lower energy consumption and pollution control as New Urbanism has claimed?

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"Can residential design lower energy consumption & control pollution?"

House logoWhat is New Urbanism ?

A reaction to the "decentralized" and "auto dependent" post War American suburbs, New Urbanism embraces design that incorporates "walkable" neighborhoods based on the five-minute walk, an orientation toward public transit rather than automobiles, and a compact and greatly integrated land use that combines shops, workspaces, and housing into neighborhoods[1]. In many ways, the New Urbanism mirrors the old neighborhood ideals of early 20th century America. However, the enthusiasm today for New Urbanist ideals lies in public policy and proactive design. New Urbanism has learned from the past, and believes that a coherent set of design principals can provide a more sustainable future for American suburbs.

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"New Urbanism embraces design that incorporates 'walkable' neighborhoods based on an orientation toward public transit rather than automobiles."


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What Communities will be Studied?

The Dos Lagos community in Corona, California is a 450-unit master planned community that bridges age groups, offering residential arrangements from traditional single family housing, to retirement residences[2]. Ninety-three of the units in Dos Lagos are live/work spaces which are designed around the New Urbanist ideal of merging daily environments - akin to the older ideal of living above the business that were operated by traditional Main Street merchants. 81 of the units in Dos Lagos are senior condominiums, which will offer a unique opportunity to test the New Urbanist ideals against energy consumption across age groups. More importantly, Dos Lagos has provided both upscale and traditional shopping within the community in an effort (once again, attached to New Urbanisms belief in compact and well planned communities) that having amenities provided close at hand will encourage "walkability" and reduce the number of car related shopping errands that are run in the course of daily life.

The Playa Vista community in Los Angeles, California is the first new community to be established on the Westside of Los Angeles in more than 50 years[3]. The community balances residential, commercial and retail space, creating a place for living, working, and recreation within one community. The United States Environmental Protection Agency certified Playa Vista as a participant in its Energy Star program for decreasing pollution by building energy-efficient homes that meet strict guidelines. New homes in Playa Vista have been found to be 28 percent more efficient than required by California's 1998 Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Playa Vista Online, 2007). Today, more than 5,000 people are living and working in Playa Vista. Phase One of Playa Vista consists of over 3,200 homes, a variety of public parks and community-serving retail. The Shops at Concert Park in Playa Vista is home to coffee bars, restaurants, a dry cleaning facility, and a beauty center.

In addition, a third community (not yet chosen) will be studied that is demographically matched to Dos Lagos and Playa Vista, but does not contain New Urbanist design elements.

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How Will the Research be Conducted?

For a copy of our survey, click here.

Our priority for this research will be to ascertain if commuting behaviors have changed in two large Southern California New Urbanist communities in relation to baseline commuting information for the area. A phase one mail and phone survey ask residents about the factors that influenced their move into the community; survey questions will assess the extent to which residents use the live/work spaces that are designed into homes; questions will inquire if residents use community shops, and to what extent residents and workers must go outside of the community; and finally survey questions will be asked about average daily distances traveled, type of vehicles used, and energy costs.

A second phase of complex traffic modeling will be undertaken to examine newer residents to examine if commute habits change from move-in, through several fixed points in time. Traffic modeling respondents will be asked to confidentially log daily trips by subject (e.g., shopping, food, entertainment, work) and point of origin and destination. Some traffic modeling may use new Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Complex traffic modeling can produce case studies, event analysis, and animated simulations that can map commuting habits at two distinct points in time, and can supplement and validate paper survey data on commute choices and the impacts on built design and energy consumption.

Per the requirements of the University of California, all survey information is kept confidential to the highest standards and only community wide information (not individual or family) will be reported.

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What are the Project Expectations?

In all, the Dos Lagos and Playa Vista surveys will seek to determine if the provision of amenities such as shopping, live/work spaces, and community "walkability" can be a powerful enough factor to affect the personal choices that drive the demand for energy use. From a broader prospective, we are also interested in several social questions that have ties to energy consumption, for instance whether the provision of a range of age specific housing options (from single family for younger households to active senior living) would impact personal migration, possibly lowering the energy costs associated with moving between housing types as a person ages.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) notes that over 75% of smog problems in Southern California are caused by vehicles and other engine driven machines that utilize combustion engines.[4]

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Where Can I Get More Information?

Mail: Edward J. Blakely Center for Sustainable Suburban Development University of California, Riverside Riverside, California 92521
Phone: (951) 827-7830
Internet: www.cssd.ucr.edu
Internet: www.haynesfoundation.org

[1] William Fulton, The New Urbanism: Hope or Hype for American Communities?, Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, 1996

[2] More information on Dos Lagos can be found at www.doslagos.net

[3] More information on Playa Vista can be found at www.playavista.com

[4] South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), "Dirty: The Health Effects of Air Pollution," Diamond Bar, CA: SCAQMD, Undated.