The common thought is that cities grow organically as living and working space needs changes. But it does not have to be as haphazard. In some cases, great care is taken in how cities evolve. Experts say that these planned densification strategies are a great way to drive energy efficiency.
Last week, Vox posted a story on a study on the many advantages of planned urban density. They include, the story said, increased productivity and economic output and improved physical and mental residents.
The story also says that reduced heating, cooling and transportation costs also are benefits. The reality is that energy use is rising due to the growth of the suburbs and the decline of global poverty. Densification can slow the acceleration and limit the impact of the growth, however.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The bottom line is that the broader environment in which a building sits seems to have as much impact over what is happening within that structure. The authors concluded that energy is “as effective as efficiency improvements for energy savings in building heating and cooling.”
The move to densification can be compared to move from shopping neighborhoods to shopping malls. Store and shops in a neighborhood each require energy plants, piped in water and a score of other unique infrastructure elements. Shopping malls require those services, of course. But delivery to one very large structure – the mall – means that overall expense is reduced because more infrastructure is shared. Likewise, energy and carbon emissions are reduced because one trip to the mall can replace several trips to individual stores.
Meeting of the Minds stated the case clearly in a post last year:
Urban densification, or increasing the number of dwelling units and mixed-use spaces per acre, is the key to tapping into the potential of cities to become part of the solution to climate change because it encourages efficiency and conservation. It is a critical aspect of making a city more sustainable and environmentally friendly. By being more organized and filling in vacant lots with shared spaces, cities can efficiently deliver water, electricity, and other municipal services to more people in a small amount of space using fewer resources and less energy.
Urban planning is beyond the mandate of energy managers, of course. But incremental steps can be taken. Urban Land Magazine suggests that the road to urban densification is long. The implication is that various elements of densification can be included as structures are planned.
Thus, an energy manager helping to plan a new facility or upgrades to the one the organization currently uses can push, where possible, in favor of incremental densification strategies.