Driving around Houston, or idling in traffic on one of the city’s big expanses of highway, it’s hard to think of the nation’s oil capital as a green city. Like other sprawling Sunbelt meccas built on the assumption that roads were forever, the city deals with intense traffic-related pollution. It’s known in the parlance of the EPA as a “non-attainment” metro area for its inability to meet healthy air quality targets. It can mount a hazy skyline to rival L.A.’s and it’s got the added burden of benzene and other toxics wafting in from nearby oil refineries. And still, the petrol city gets that it is a new greener day in America.
Once again, California is leading the way toward greener cities. Today, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that addresses sprawl concretely (and one hopes that’s concrete mixed with recycled fly ash).
Many states and cities have talked about the need to shorten commutes and to connect work centers with fuel-saving public transportation. These talks have sometimes yielded more commuter rail lines, bike paths and awards for urban renewal projects. But just as often, they’ve produced more talk.
Dealing holistically with sprawl has seemed beyond the grip of many large cities where the citizenry and leadership have long equated bigger with better. (Need we name these Sunbelt perpetrators?)
Now California may help break the impasse. The bill, SB 375, signed today puts some green on the table – to push the issue beyond talk. It will link federal transportation funding to climate change goals, offering incentives to builders to keep their projects closer to city hubs and to build more affordable housing projects within major metro areas.
Denser urban population growth will mean shorter, fewer commutes, translating to lower fuel consumption, preserved agricultural land and cleaner air. Neat how those things all go hand in hand, huh? The re-direct will help the state meet its goal of reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Critics were miffed that during machinations, the building lobby won some exemptions from some other environmental requirements for those pursuing these incentives. But as we’ve seen in Congress, even crisis legislation can crack and falter if compromises aren’t made.
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