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Opportunities To Reduce Climate Risks Through Land Use Regulations

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Summer 2022   


Opportunities To Reduce Climate Risks Through Land Use Regulations


      • Land use regulations, such as zoning ordinances and building codes that determine the location and type of residential development, impact the environment.
      • Policies that promote higher-density, mixed-use developments with access to public infrastructure, along with energy-efficiency improvements to older housing stock, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
      • Climate mitigation and adaptation policies should consider social equity and environmental justice and be tailored to a community’s individual risks and resources.

Land use regulations have been in the news over the past several years as the production of new housing has failed to keep up with demand, particularly in areas with strong economic growth.1 The media has focused on high housing prices resulting from rules dictating large minimum lot sizes and setbacks, parking, and impact fees, among other requirements, along with zoning ordinances that limit housing in certain areas to single-family detached homes, and other regulatory components. These rules not only contribute to high housing costs and a shortage of homes, but they push housing farther away, leading to sprawl. Living in suburbs may seem part of the American Dream, but those areas come at a significant environmental cost and contribute to climate change.

The relationship between housing and climate change involves numerous factors, including greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of housing and its supporting infrastructure; longer travel distances when homes are not located near jobs, shops, resources, and amenities; and a larger portion of the population living in areas at risk of natural disasters. Current practices, including trends in location choices, are not sustainable. This article examines how development choices affect the environment and then explores the ways land use reforms can reduce negative environmental impacts and promote climate resilience. As jurisdictions consider revising land use regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they can address a range of related issues, such as increasing affordable housing and improving public health.2

Development Choices and the Environment

In the United States, states have delegated authority to local jurisdictions to determine how land is used, what structures can be built, and how to balance competing priorities. Jurisdictions have developed a body of land use regulations that govern development, including zoning ordinances, subdivision rules, adequate public facility ordinances, traffic standards, design requirements, and other local rules. Building codes and environmental statutes impose additional requirements. Land use regulations and their implementation determine where building occurs, what is built, and how it is built, all of which affect the environment. Because residential uses account for more than 20 percent of the nation’s energy consumption (see figure 1), housing policies can play an important role in reducing energy use. Such policies can also reduce individuals’ vehicle miles traveled. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation come from passenger cars (which include personal and commercial-use vehicles).3

Chart showing total energy consumption by sector in the United States from 1950 to 2020.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2022. "Monthly Energy Review," Tables 2.1a, 2.1b. Accessed 8 August 2022.


Zoning ordinances establish geographic zones that guide land use. For example, land may be zoned for industrial use, commercial or retail use, residential use at various densities, or a combination of these. When zoning separates residential uses from retail uses — such as the grocery store and daycare center — individuals must travel longer distances to accomplish their daily tasks. Mixed-use zones, which allow retail and commercial establishments near housing, allow people to drive less and thus emit fewer greenhouse gases. People must spend more time in their vehicles when homes near job centers are too expensive, forcing them to live in more affordable housing farther away. Built environments are typically long lasting, locking in the carbon-intensive buildings and infrastructure that land use policies create.4

In 2011, journalist Emily Badger wrote that "suburban lifestyles represent one of the most serious threats to the climate." Research finds urban environments with greater density and accessibility reduce greenhouse gas emissions.5 For example, Monkkonen, Guerra, Escamilla, and Cos examined 400 cities in 40 countries and found dense, compact cities with built-up downtowns and shorter roadway segments had lower carbon dioxide emissions per capita.6 A comparison among American, Australian, and Canadian cities similarly found a negative correlation between density and emissions.7 Jones and Kammen found that although dense city centers have lower household emissions, the extensive suburbanization of the region may result in an overall net increase in emissions compared with those of smaller metropolitan areas. According to their analysis, suburban areas accounted for nearly 50 percent of the total U.S. household carbon footprint — in stark contrast to suburbanites’ perceptions that their single-family homes, with their spacious yards (thanks to large setback requirements) and nearby parks, are environmentally friendly.8

An analysis of land use scenarios by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Massachusetts found the growth of vehicle miles traveled in a sprawl scenario was 5.2 percentage points higher than in a scenario with more development in urban areas and denser suburbs, even before accounting for any benefits from transit improvements or transitoriented development.9 The authors conclude that smart growth policies and user fees, designed to advance racial and economic equity, must be part of a comprehensive transportation sustainability strategy; governments cannot rely solely on technology-based solutions to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. As Badger explains, "Give people a hybrid, and they drive more. Give people a state-of-the-art home heating system, and sometimes they turn up the temperature. But there’s no backsliding with land-use changes."10 Xu et al. similarly note that relying on technological advances, alternative energy, and engineering protection solutions are not sufficient; land use planning provides an important tool in developing strategies.11

When workers in a community cannot access nearby housing, they will live in more distant homes that require additional infrastructure to be built, such as streets, water mains, sewage pipes, and gas lines. Installing this infrastructure can create negative environmental impacts; for example, the addition of impermeable surfaces leads to greater runoff and flash flooding, and concrete and asphalt radiate heat.12 Low-density neighborhoods also require more building materials per capita, with the associated emissions of manufacturing concrete, asphalt, piping, and other inputs. 13 Extending housing farther from the city center takes an additional toll on the environment when the development eliminates natural areas — including fields, forests, and wetlands — while placing homes closer to areas susceptible to flooding or wildfires. Such practices also take their toll on residents, particularly low- and moderate-income households, who face longer commutes with higher transportation costs and may live in areas of greater risk.

With the increase in wildfires, flooding, storms, heat waves, drought, and other weather-related risks, current residential patterns leave millions at risk of a disaster.

What Is Built

Land use regulations, often through zoning ordinances, govern the types of residences that can be built as well as lot size, lot coverage, and setbacks. These components are important influences on the urban form, and these policy choices have significant environmental implications.

For example, infill development, which occurs in areas that are already developed, often involves smaller buildings that are designed to fit into the available space and use existing infrastructure. Such development, however, often requires numerous approvals that are time consuming, expensive, and unpredictable. Local land use policies can make building homes in a previously undeveloped area, known as greenfield development, a much easier process, although doing so requires installing roads, sidewalks, water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure. An analysis from California’s scenario planning found an average household in a high-density urban community in the San Francisco area produces 6 metric tons of carbon emissions a year from transportation and household heating compared with 21 metric tons of annual carbon emissions from a singlefamily household in a nearby suburban area.14 A recent analysis examining Los Angeles and Boston found that greenhouse gas emissions are higher in higher-income neighborhoods than in low-income neighborhoods, which have a more compact form and higher population density and consist primarily of multifamily apartments.15

Similarly, jurisdictions that require only single-family homes in a community, rather than permitting a range of structures such as townhomes, garden apartments, and multifamily buildings impose environmental costs. Units with shared walls, such as townhouses, consume less energy for heating and cooling than single-family homes, which have an inherent structural inefficiency.16 The environmental costs are even greater in jurisdictions that impose large minimum lot sizes, significant setbacks, and other parameters that prohibit building units with greater efficiency in both construction and energy usage over the life of the home.

Choices about urban form directly affect water demand. For example, compact development, infill development, and homes on smaller lots use less water than do single-family homes on large lots.17 Land use policies often require developers to include green spaces and may even prescribe landscaping yet also impose significant parking requirements, which create runoff; the parking areas also reduce the land available for housing units and drive up development costs. Coordination between staff at the water management agency and staff in the land use department might result in a better plan with a more thoughtful approach incorporating both green and blue infrastructure such as parks, trees, garden roofs, reserves, wetlands, and sustainable urban drainage systems.18

Low-angle aerial view of multistory buildings with roof-top solar panels on the building in the foreground.
Research finds that urban environments with greater density and accessibility reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The built environment results from responding to market needs in the context of the regulatory environment. These factors drive not only the urban form and location of housing but also the construction and resulting operation of units. This broad scope is important because once housing is built, it tends to last for a long time.


Housing construction directly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in multiple ways, including the production of construction materials as well as the energy efficiency of the units built. Efforts are underway to reduce embodied carbon, which refers to the total impact of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the supply chain of a construction material, including raw material extraction, transport to the manufacturing plant, the manufacturing process, the transport of finished goods to the construction site, construction site activities and material losses, materials use phase, repair, maintenance and replacement, as well as the end of life processing.19

When land use regulations, such as design standards, parking requirements, or building codes, require materials with higher embodied carbon, they increase greenhouse gas emissions. Concrete, steel, and aluminum are three of the most carbon-intensive building materials to produce.20 Requiring the use of specific carbon-intensive materials has what Cole describes as "intergenerational environmental consequences," locking in future carbon emissions.21 Identifying materials and construction methods that are environmentally friendly can support new construction. For example, replacing energy-intensive materials with lower-impact alternatives, such as using engineered timber rather than steel, can reduce the negative environmental effects of construction.22

Only a small supply of the housing stock, historically ranging between 1 and 2 percent, is built annually. The result is that more than half of existing single-family homes in the United States are more than 40 years old (see figure 2). Most multifamily units were also built before 1980.23 The prevalence of older housing stock means that a large portion of U.S. homes are not energy efficient. Aging homes are more likely to be in low-income, minority neighborhoods (see figure 3); as a result, low-income households use more energy because they live in older units with less efficient technology. As a percentage of income, low-income households spend three times more on energy costs than do higher-income households (8.1% and 2.3%, respectively).24 Reducing residential energy use will require increasing the energy efficiency of these homes. Although resources such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program are available for energy retrofits, many low-income residents do not qualify for the program because their units are not fit for habitation, have asbestos or mold, or have other disqualifying factors.25

Because new construction often involves significant embodied carbon and old homes are inefficient, the benefits of renovating and retrofitting older units when possible, rather than demolishing them to build new housing, are clear. Deconstructing older buildings to salvage scarce and high-quality materials also offers significant benefits for both the environment and local communities.26

Pie chart showing share of single-family homes built before 1980, after 2010, and for each decade in between.
Source: Sijie Li. 2020. "Where is the Aging Housing Stock in the United States," Exhibit 1, Freddie Mac.

Land Use Reforms to Reduce Negative Environmental Impacts

Land use reforms can reduce climate risks in two distinct ways: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation focuses on changing practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions to reduce future damage to the environment. Mitigation efforts may involve building at greater density with mixed land uses and having effective transportation networks. Adaptation considers how to reduce the risks households face from current climate conditions, such as by developing and maintaining flood-plains to protect populated areas from coastal flooding and providing sufficient green space to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Some researchers note the conflict between mitigation and adaptation. Xu et al., based on their empirical study of a coastal area in China, recommend a combined approach, with moderate population density to limit sprawl while avoiding overcrowding of urban centers; a mix of residential, employment, retail, and leisure uses; high road connectivity with adequate intersections; and planned and protected green open space that supports the urban density.27 Viguié and Hallegatte similarly note tradeoffs among policy goals when comparing a greenbelt policy to reduce sprawl, a zoning policy to reduce flood risk, and a transportation subsidy. They found that each policy interfered with the other policy goals, but when combined, the policies supported mitigation and adaptation goals.28 Furthermore, mitigation and adaptation efforts can create economic returns, including making the area more desirable for investors, raising local property values, and lowering insurance costs.29

Climate mitigation and adaptation require consideration of social equity because low-income households, house- holds of color, the very young and very old, and people with health conditions, among others, are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and are at a higher risk of damage from it. For example, Boston implemented its city- wide plan to reduce urban heat islands in the five neighborhoods with the greatest heat challenges, all of which stemmed from the neighborhoods’ history of environmental injustices and systemic racism.30

The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals developed a toolkit that offers a set of guiding principles for designing climate adaptation strategies:

  • Adopt integrated approaches.
  • Prioritize the most vulnerable.
  • Use best-available science.
  • Build strong partnerships.
  • Apply appropriate risk-management methods and tools.
  • Apply ecosystem-based approaches.
  • Maximize mutual benefits.
  • Continuously evaluate performance.31

Cole recognizes the need for a new, regenerative form of development that emphasizes place and local communities when considering responses to climate change. He places the local ecosystem — the combination of people, sociocultural systems, and ecological systems — at the center of the process of rethinking building design in relation to natural systems.32 The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals’ toolkit and the regenerative develop- ment approaches are both designed to bring a broader perspective to addressing reforms.

Mitigation efforts cover activities such as buildings, transportation, energy, and individual behavior, all of which are incorporated in land use policies. The activities described below are categorized into community- or house-level actions.


Land use policy drives the location of housing, as previously discussed. Jurisdictions can protect residents by revising their zoning ordinances to prevent or limit development in high-risk locations.33 In March 2018, Norfolk, Virginia, implemented new zoning overlays that direct new and more intense development to higher ground, evaluating projects according to standards set for flood risk reduction, stormwater management, and energy resilience.34 Projects that do not meet a minimum threshold must undergo a more complex site review that examines additional goals such as conserving water resources, protecting water quality, supporting multimodal transportation and mobility, and providing mixed-income residential or mixed-use developments.35

Bar chart showing share of aging housing stock by type of Census tract.
Note: "Aging Housing Stock" is defined as housing built before 1980.
Source: Sijie Li. 2020. "Where is the Aging Housing Stock in the United States," Exhibit 6, Freddie Mac.

Land along the ocean shoreline or near lakes or forests is often the most valuable because of the amenities nature provides. Jurisdictions can counter the value lost from restricting development in such areas by allowing more development, or more intense development, in other areas and by providing transfers of development rights to offset the economic losses.36 An example provided in Gale37 is Charlotte County, Florida, which revised its transfer of density units ordinance in 2018 to, in part:

  • Assist in and encourage the replacement of an unsustainable and inefficient form of development with compact, higher density, mixed-use development that is more sustainable and efficiently uses resources.
  • Offer incentives for retaining long-term agricultural activities and clustering rural development densities to create an alternative to rural large-lot sprawl and to reduce the premature conversion of rural lands and preserve rural character and viewsheds.
  • Create incentives for the voluntary preservation of environmentally sensitive lands.38

The role of dispersed housing in increasing greenhouse gas emissions is significant. Land use policies that promote appropriate density with accompanying infrastructure can counter this effect. The use of "appropriate" in this context acknowledges that no single solution is ideal for all geographies and housing markets; housing needs to be optimized for different location types. Density does not necessarily mean large apartment buildings — it could mean smaller homes on smaller lots with a corner store and barbershop nearby. All communities would benefit from reducing parking requirements or at least recognizing the benefits of sharing parking between residential and commercial uses.39 In addition, sufficient density to support public transportation — along with quality walking and biking routes — has environmental and health benefits. Pain et al. recommend combining public transportation that has sufficient capacity, quality, and accessibility with reduced parking and limitations on car circulation.40

Transit-oriented development (TOD) and form-based codes are both established tools for supporting well-planned density. Transit-oriented development creates people-centered neighborhoods along transit corridors.41 These designs can result in shorter travel times, reduced congestion, lower utility bills, improved public health, and better air quality (see Chester et al. for an analysis of the lifecycle benefits of a TOD in Phoenix).42 Form-based codes enable communities to think beyond parameters such as setbacks, height, and lot coverage and consider factors that will help meet climate objectives, such as orientation, exposure, and interaction with other buildings and public spaces.43

Placement of housing, not just in relation to other buildings but also in relation to roads, water lines, utilities, and parks, can help limit emissions. Optimizing housing placement requires a holistic approach to infrastructure that involves coordinating among local agencies when planning major investments, such as those provided under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developed a list of 25 climate policy actions. One of the action items recommends making sustainable building an integral element in urban and rural planning. Integrating infrastructure and urban planning would include placing public transportation near housing, offices, shopping districts, and green spaces to enhance a city’s vitality and economic development while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing travel. OECD also proposes encouraging compact, denser cities with regulations that provide for green spaces and water areas to prevent congestion and overheating.44 Underlying these recommendations is the need for systematic transformation in the way jurisdictions invest in their communities to create and improve housing and transportation.

The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals recognizes the need to consider risks in three sectors — the natural, built, and social environments — when developing a climate resilience plan. Within the built environment, the institute outlines three areas for consideration: land use (such as housing, hazardous sites, recreation, and agriculture), utilities (such as water supply, wastewater, energy, waste management, and communications systems), and transportation (including access, infrastructure, public transit, and marine/ port facilities).45 This approach recognizes the interconnectedness among housing, transportation, water, communications, and other infrastructure systems. Accordingly, no single component can fully mitigate the negative effects of climate change or improve the ability of communities to withstand its effects.

Visualizations that capture flood risk, groundwater, permeability, infrastructure, topography, geology, and zoning can play an important role in understanding the challenges and looking more systematically for solutions, including through land use policies.47 Other tools are being developed to help local agencies understand how to consider urban form and urban mobility to reduce energy consumption.

An important component for mitigation in both rural and urban areas is sufficient green and blue infrastructure. Blue infrastructure refers to water elements such as rivers, canals, ponds, wetlands, floodplains, water treatment facilities, and storm drainage systems. Blue infrastructure involves the system for addressing water usage, stormwater management, and flooding risks; it interacts directly with green infrastructure. Green infrastructure describes the network of multifunctional green space that includes parks, open space, recreational fields, woods, trees, private gardens, and green roofs. Systems such as rain gardens and bioswales that are designed to capture and filter stormwater are important "blue-green infrastructure," which involves using plants and soils to filter pollutants, reduce runoff, and recharge groundwater in aquifers.48

Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure elements absorb and re-emit more heat than natural landscapes such as forests and bodies of water. Urban areas, where structures are highly concentrated, can experience daytime temperatures that are 1 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than temperatures in outlying areas and nighttime temperatures 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher, a phenomenon referred to as the urban heat island effect.49 Heat islands can create risks for urban residents living in areas with poorly planned density, particularly as communities throughout the United States increasingly are experiencing dangerous heat waves. Adding water elements and green spaces to these areas can reduce the effect of urban heat islands.

Some communities are taking more expansive measures. For example, the Blackfeet Nation is working to capture groundwater and restore riparian areas through a restoration project to increase resilience to drought and reduce flooding.50

Philadelphia implemented its Green City, Clean Waters plan in 2009 to address problems caused by its combined sewer overflow system. Rather than creating a traditional grey infrastructure system involving pipes, storage tanks, and expanded treatment capacity, the city turned to a green stormwater infrastructure that included creating green spaces, rain gardens, bioswales,and other interventions to reduce stormwater runoff and improve infiltration.51 Compared with a grey infrastructure approach, the Green City, Clean Waters plan was less expensive; more rapidly implemented; and resulted in a better quality of life for residents, increased property values, offset carbon emissions, reduced heat island effects, and improved public health.52

In Baltimore County, Maryland, 70 percent of residents did not have accessible open space within a quarter mile of their homes. Local watersheds had been polluted by stormwater runoff. The nonprofit NeighborSpace of Baltimore County works with the county government, local universities, community organizations, and residents to create small pocket parks, gardens, trails, and other green areas. The program is funded by the county’s open space waiver fees. Developers who are unable to set aside 1,000 square feet of open space for each newly constructed dwelling unit may seek waivers from the county and pay a fee, 20 percent of which is given to NeighborSpace.53

Rural communities provide opportunities to invest in clean energy while rebuilding housing and commercial developments, installing broadband internet connections, and upgrading other infrastructure. With their wideopen areas, rural communities contain most of the nation’s onshore wind capacity and utility-scale solar capacity.54 Renewable energy investments can promote economic growth if supported by any necessary land use regulatory changes. The pandemic and the subsequent rise in remote work have encouraged households to relocate to smaller towns and rural areas. Researchers from the University of Toronto propose that "managed retreat," the concept of rebuilding in safer locations before disasters occur, could further contribute to a network of reinvigorated small towns.55

Climate mitigation efforts involving land use choices and interconnected infrastructure investments at the community level must also be applied at the individual building level to promote individual and environmental well-being.


Choices regarding housing size, type, building materials, and heating systems all directly affect carbon emissions.56 The land use policies that specify the details of what homes can be built, what materials must be used, and what utility standards apply offer policymakers opportunities to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. OECD recommends stringent climate-friendly building codes and standards that require sustainable materials, low-energy homes, and integrated sustainable waste and water management.57

Many resources are available to guide jurisdictions in implementing climate friendly practices. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy identifies several opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including constructing zero-energy homes, which produce at least as much energy as they use; retrofitting homes, which can reduce a home’s energy usage by an average of 30 percent; optimizing energy use with automated controls and other sensors, reducing consumption by 15 percent or more; and using electricity (primarily heat pumps) for space and water heating.58 The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance explains how to reduce carbon in buildings through zoning rules, which include renovating existing buildings to increase efficiency, changing zoning rules to require more efficient building shapes, and changing design standards to require low-impact materials.59

Levitt and Adams note that low-rise buildings are less carbon-intensive to build.60 Incorporating passive cooling into the building design of homes can limit air conditioning use by limiting heat buildup and accelerating heat dispersal; various traditional or modern passive cooling techniques may be suitable depending on the local climate.61 As buildings are being built or renovated, material banks can encourage the reuse of materials.62 These banks track each item being used to supply information on the components to those harvesting the building in the future.

In Tukwila, Washington, a community land trust, in partnership with the state and local governments, is building a net- zero affordable housing development with 18 three- and four-bedroom homes, including units for people with disabilities.63 The project builds on efforts connected to the state of Washington’s Ultra-High Energy Efficient Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. The building innovations will reduce residents’ utility costs and improve air quality.64

Retrofits are important because of the inefficiency of old homes and the embodied carbon involved in replacing those homes with new buildings. Despite the benefits, each year less than 1 percent of the building stock is being renovated to reduce carbon emissions.65 OECD recommends implementing tax and financial incentives to renovate existing buildings and develop retrofit solutions.66

Because more than 50 percent of the existing housing stock was built more than 40 years ago, improving the energy efficiency of these homes introduces a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases. The federal Weatherization Assistance Program funds the repair or replacement of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; upgrades to windows and doors to increase energy efficiency; and other repairs. However, the program requires that eligible homes have no mold, asbestos, or structural issues, which excludes many of the lowest income households that could benefit from the program.67 According to one estimate, 10 to 30 percent of potential income-eligible weatherization clients nationally are deferred because of health and safety issues. The costs to remedy deficiencies to become eligible for the federal program can be high; for example, Virginia officials estimate that the average weatherization barrier remediation costs are $5,000 to $8,000.68

Photo of a light rail train on a street with multistory buildings.
Transit-oriented development is an established tool for supporting well-planned density

The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a bill to create a fund that would award grants to address habitability concerns, improve energy and water efficiency, and make units accessible for individuals with disabilities.69 More than 280,000 occupied homes in Pennsylvania are estimated to have moderate to severe physical issues, and the grant program would be designed to position these homes to access federal weatherization funds.70 As one legislator explained, the program would help fix housing in struggling mining communities "before they completely go to rot . . . that’s better for the people living in the homes, better for the next-door neighbor, and better for the taxpayer if they don’t have to fund millions and millions in demolition costs."71

Beyond weatherization, other specific retrofits, such as shutters, can position the housing stock to better withstand more frequent storms, flooding, and heat. Such adaptations can minimize risks while raising home values and lower- ing insurance costs.72


No single approach will reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to meet the country’s goals and residents’ needs. Yet jurisdictions often focus on individual problems as they arise rather than considering the interplay among causes, contexts, and resulting conditions. Reducing the negative effects of the built environment on the natural environment requires considering a larger ecosystem. Land use decisions need to consider density, the mix of uses, connectivity among street networks, accessibility to a wide range of locations with low travel distance and time, and green and blue infrastructure — the full range of physical, socioeconomic, and policy drivers. Policymakers also need to consider the many co-benefits of climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives, including long-term environmental health, economic viability, and residents’ health and well-being, as well as how to ensure that these decisions and investments consider equity and environmental justice. Inherent in this approach is the recognition that no one-size-fits-all approach can succeed, because jurisdictions face different risks; have varying resources; and have experienced different histories and pat- terns of development, investment, and disinvestment.

Urban planning must be part of an intersectional climate policy solution, particularly through the many land use regulations that determine what is built and where. Many resources are available to inform changes to land use regulations and policies to reduce the negative impact on the environment and improve communities. Developing a climate-friendly network of housing, transportation, and other infrastructure is necessary but not sufficient. People’s day-to-day activities in their communities are an important component. Reducing emissions will require transforming how individuals think, work, and interact.

— Pamela M. Blumenthal, HUD

  1. Emily Badger. 2022. "Something Has to Give in the Housing Market. Or Does It?" New York Times, 20 January; Andrew Wimer. 2022. "Rules Requiring People to Buy Big Homes Are Pricing Americans Out of the Housing Market," Forbes, 17 May.
  2. The Harvard Law Review Association. 2022. "State Preemption of Local Zoning Laws as Intersectional Climate Policy," Harvard Law Review 135:6, 1592.
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. "Fast Facts: U.S. Transportation Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990–2020."
  4. Laurie Winkless. 2022. "Rethinking our cities to tackle climate change," Forbes, 21 April.
  5. Kathy Pain, Daniel Black, Jon Blower, Sue Grimmond, Alistair Hunt, Santimira Milcheva, et al. 2018. "Supporting Smart Urban Development: Successful Investing in Density," working paper, Urban Land Institute.
  6. Paavo Monkkonen, Erick Guerra, Jorge Montejano Escamilla, and Camilo Caudillo Cos. 2022. "Regulating Urban Sustainability: Land Regulations, Urban Spatial Structure, Transportation Infrastructure, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  7. Katrina Wyman, Danielle Spiegel-Feld, Adalene Minelli, and Sara Savarani. 2022. "Valuing Density: An Evaluation of the Extent to which American, Australian, and Canadian Cities Account for the Climate Benefits of Density through Environmental Review," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  8. Christopher Jones and Daniel M. Kammen. 2014. "Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density," Environmental Science & Technology 48:2, 895–902.
  9. Conor Gately and Tim Reardon. 2021. "The Impacts of Land Use and Pricing in Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled and Transport Emissions in Massachusetts," Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
  10. Emily Badger. 2011. "The Missing Link of Climate Change: Single-Family Suburban Homes," Bloomberg CityLab, 7 December.
  11. Lilai Xu, Xiaoming Wang, Jiahui Liu, Yuanrong He, Jianxiong Tang, Minh Nguyen, and Shenghui Cui. 2019. "Identifying the trade-offs between climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban land use planning: An empirical study in a coastal city," Environment International 133, Part b.
  12. Adie Tomer, Joseph W. Kane, Jenny Schuetz, and Caroline George. 2021. "We can’t beat the climate crisis without rethinking land use," Brookings Metro.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Badger 2011.
  15. Benjamin Goldstein, Dimitrios Gounaridis, and Joshua P. Newell, 2020. "The carbon footprint of household energy use in the United States," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117:32, 19122–30.
  16. Tomer et al. 2021.
  17. Erin Rugland. 2022. "Integrating Land Use and Water Management: Planning and Practice," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  18. Rugland; Winkless.
  19. Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. n.d. "City Policy Framework for Dramatically Reducing Embodied Carbon."
  20. Architecture 2030. "Embodied Carbon Actions" ( Accessed 8 August 2022.
  21. Raymond J. Cole. 2020. "Navigating Climate Change: Rethinking the Role of Buildings," Sustainability 12:22, 9527.
  22. Winkless.
  23. Michael Neal, Laurie Goodman, and Caitlin Young. 2020. "Housing Supply Chartbook," Urban Institute.
  24. Ariel Drehobl, Lauren Ross, and Roxana Ayala. 2020. "How High are Household Energy Burdens? An Assessment of National and Metropolitan Energy Burden across the United States," American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
  25. Rachel M. Cohen. 2022. "How to fight the affordable housing and climate crises at once: It’s all about the energy bills," Vox, 17 April.
  26. National Association of Home Builders Research Center, Inc. 2000. "A Guide to Deconstruction," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.
  27. Xu et al.
  28. Vincent Viguié and Stéphane Hallegatte. 2012. "Trade-offs and synergies in urban climate policies," Nature Climate Change 2, 334–7.
  29. Rebecca Gale. 2022. "Enhancing Resilience through Neighborhood-Scale Strategies," Urban Land Institute.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. 2019. "Climate Change Adaptation Planning: Background Material."
  32. Cole.
  33. Jenny Schuetz. 2019. "To save the planet, the Green New Deal needs to improve urban land use," Brookings Institution, 15 January.
  34. The Pew Charitable Trusts. 2019. "Norfolk’s Revised Zoning Ordinance Aims to Improve Flood Resilience," issue brief, 19 November.
  35. City of Norfolk. "5.12 Resilience Quotient." Accessed 10 August 2022.
  36. Gale.
  37. Ibid.
  38. See Charlotte County. "Transfer of Density Units (TDU)" ( Accessed 8 August 2022.
  39. Anthony De Yurre and Jennifer E. Fine. 2019. "Case Study Series: Benefits of Coral Gables Shared Parking Ordinance," National Law Review, 30 April.
  40. Pain et al.
  41. See Federal Transit Administration. "National Resources & Technical Assistance for Transit-Oriented Development" (; See the Form-Based Codes Institute at
  42. Mikhail V. Chester, Matthew J. Nahlik, Andrew M. Fraser, Mindy A. Kimball, and Venu M. Garikapati. 2013. "Integrating Life-cycle Environmental and Economic Assessment with Transportation and Land Use Planning," Environmental Science & Technology 47:21, 12020–8.
  43. Janna Levitt and Drew Adams. 2019. "Why Zoning is Key to Combatting Climate Change," Azure, 19 February.
  44. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. "Use tax and financial incentives to renovate existing buildings" ( Accessed 8 August 2022.
  45. Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals.
  46. Levitt and Adams.
  47. See, for example, Roger Cremades and Philipp S. Sommer. 2019. "Computing climate-smart urban land use with the Integrated Urban Complexity model (IUCm 1.0)," Geoscientific Model Development 12, 525–39.
  48. "Rain Gardens: A Way to Improve Water Quality," University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Program website ( Accessed 8 August 2022.
  49. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. "Reducing urban heat islands: Compendium of strategies."
  50. See "Protecting Beaver and Restoring Wetlands: The Ksik Stakii Project," Blackfeet Country and Climate Change website ( Accessed 8 August 2022.
  51. Rugland.
  52. Ibid.
  53. James N. Levitt and Chandni Navalkha. 2022. "From the Ground Up: How Land Trusts and Conservancies are Providing Solutions to Climate Change," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  54. Devashree Saha, Alex Rudee, Haley Leslie-Bole, and Tom Cyrs. 2021. "The Economic Benefits of the New Climate Economy in Rural America," working paper, World Resources Institute.
  55. Hillary A. Brown and Daniel R. Brooks. 2021. "How ‘managed retreat’ from climate change could revitalize rural America: Revisiting the Homestead Act," The Conversation, 18 October.
  56. Goldstein, Gounaridis, and Newell.
  57. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. "Put in place stringent green building codes and standards" ( Accessed 23 August 2022.
  58. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. 2019. "Halfway There: Energy efficiency can cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050," fact sheet, 17 September.
  59. Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.
  60. Levitt and Adams.
  61. Sean Becketti. 2021. "The Impact of Climate Change on Housing and Housing Finance," Research Institute for Housing America.
  62. Winkless.
  63. See Homestead Community Land Trust. 2022. "Homestead Community Land Trust Kicks Off Construction of The Southard in Tukwila," LinkedIn post, 23 June.
  64. For details on the demonstration, see Washington State Department of Commerce. 2018. "Ultra-Efficient Affordable Housing Demonstration: Report to the Legislature."
  65. Cole.
  66. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. "Use tax and financial incentives to renovate existing buildings."
  67. E4The Future. 2022. "Weatherization Barriers Toolkit: How to Address Health and Safety Barriers with an Income-Eligible Focus."
  68. Ibid.
  69. Pennsylvania General Assembly. 2022. "Senate Bill 1135."
  70. Cohen.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Katherine A. Kiel. 2021. "Climate Change Adaptation and Property Values: A Survey of the Literature," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


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