SELC’s Land and Community Program tackles the growth challenges and decisions shaping the Southeast. This series of posts will run every other week for the next few months, highlighting some of the broader issues driving this work—transportation and land use developments, alternatives, and progress in our region. Below an interview and essay by Program Leader and Senior Attorney Trip Pollard delves into this work.
The Southeast is changing rapidly. Our states are experiencing some of the greatest population increases in the United States. And growth can be good—the problem lies in how we are growing. The Southeast has some of the country’s highest driving rates and the largest number of wasteful and destructive highway proposals, as well as some of the fastest rates of sprawling development. These trends are transforming the landscapes, natural resources, and vibrant communities that define our region.
Transportation and land use patterns are a primary cause of almost every major environmental problem. For example, transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States, after the electricity sector, producing almost one-third of emissions nationwide. And it accounts for an even higher percentage of emissions in the Southeast. In Virginia, transportation generates almost half of the state’s CO2 pollution.
Fundamental changes are needed to shift our rapidly growing region away from the typical auto-focused transportation approach and sprawling development that necessitate driving—and driving farther—to get to work, to shop, or to engage in other activities.
The good news is that there are ample opportunities to accomplish this shift. Our growth challenges are largely caused by governmental policies and decisions, and these can be changed. We can promote well-designed, walkable development that mixes residential and commercial uses, integrating where we live, work, and shop while protecting farms, forests, and natural resources. We can encourage redevelopment and infill in existing communities and guide new development to targeted areas. And we can provide alternatives to move freight and people while improving existing road networks and minimizing the adverse impacts of the roads we do build.
There is growing support for these changes. Citizens, business leaders, and decision makers are increasingly concerned about the rising costs and impacts of current policies promoting destructive highways and sprawl. Moreover, changing demographics and market preferences are increasing demand for transportation and housing options. For example, as our population ages, more people cannot drive to reach necessary services. Housing within walking distance of amenities can increase property values, and businesses increasingly want access to transit, as well as options that allow employees to live closer to work.
SELC is a leader on transportation and land use issues across the Southeast, and our blend of legal advocacy, policy reform, and public education has been extremely effective. Since we launched the Land and Community Program in 1997, we and our partners have halted or scaled back many of the worst sprawl-inducing projects in the region, improved policies and practices, and increased public support for new approaches to transportation and development.
Comprehensive strategies are needed to tackle complex challenges, and we have built a successful track record by concentrating on three things:
- prioritizing and reorienting funds to improve road networks and increase options for freight and passenger rail, transit, walking, and bicycling,
- stopping destructive highway proposals that would increase driving and pollution and subsidize damaging land use patterns for decades—and crafting positive alternatives to these proposals;
- promoting policies that strengthen existing communities, protect open space, and encourage walkable development.
Over the course of this series, you will see how the future of the Southeast depends heavily on the transportation planning decisions we make today and how the three concepts listed above affect our neighborhoods now.