Studies show that with compact development people may drive 20-40 percent less, said Reid Ewing, a research professor at the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth and co-author of a new book, released earlier this month, called Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.
One model of a walkable community cited at the conference is the Atlantic Station Project in midtown Atlanta. It was featured on April 1 in NPR’s excellent “Climate Connections” series. The story told how the Taylor family of two moved to an apartment in the planned community for the convenience of “jobs, home and shopping all in one place,” and in the process dramatically cut its carbon footprint. While the regional average VMT is about thirty-two miles per day per person, the residents of Atlantic Station travel only about one-third that amount. Mother Malaika walks her eleven-year-old daughter Maya to the bus stop, and then generally walks to work a mile away; she also does her grocery shopping on foot. This is in sharp contrast to another Atlanta family featured in the NPR series, the Carvalhos, who moved to a five-bedroom “dream house” on a big lot in the suburbs, but commute more than an hour to work.
The April 11-12 educational seminar attracted about forty reporters, many from national outlets such as The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg News, CNN, NPR, National Geographic, and Scientific American (with New York Times environment reporter/blogger Andrew Revkin and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor David Shribman among the speakers). But it also included a lot of local or regional reporters and editorial writers from papers like the Arizona Republic and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
Conference sponsors offered to cover expenses for all attendees, an option that several reporters said was the only way they could attend in a time of tight to nonexistent travel budgets. “Our travel budget is essentially zero,” said environment reporter Mike Taugher of the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, California. He and others said their publications had no problem with the conference paying expenses, especially given the Neiman partnership. Anthony Flint, of the Lincoln Institute, said the intense two-day conference was the equivalent of a “mini-fellowship.”
While most came from one of the “Two Cultures” of environment or land-use coverage, a few reporters are already straddling the fence. “I’ve always made the link between growth and the environment,” said The Tampa Tribune’s Yvette Hammett, whose beat includes environment and growth development issues. “[But] I haven’t done much in making the connection between climate change and local land use issues, including walkability.”