If it is not sustainable, it won’t be sustained

Patrick Gibbons

SustainLane Media recently ranked Las Vegas 47th out of 50 U.S. cities in terms of "sustainability."  After looking at the subcategories of what constitutes "sustainability," I have to say: whoopty-do.

One of those categories is "planning and land use," which to left-of-center people means high-density, multi-use properties that aren't very popular among most Americans.  Also included are rankings on the purchase of locally grown agriculture, and a vague category called "city innovation," which probably means "creative ways government can spend taxpayer money."

Thrown into the mix are legitimate measures like road congestion, water quality, air quality and housing affordability.  Unfortunately, housing affordability is tainted with bonus points for cities with "living wages," making the category itself nonsensical.

Interestingly, the report states, "Ironically, housing is generally cheapest in cities with lower Planning/Land Use scores."

Ironically?  Um, no. Such results should be expected. Urban planning never has nor ever will make the cost of living cheaper. Usually, urban planners are busy trying to wipe out low-cost housing in favor of high-end, mixed development for rich white yuppies. The same goes for any type of government planning – government seems to make things more expensive no matter the goal.

The report also takes some strange methodological approaches. For example, the report gives three times more weight to the types of commute (walk, bike, carpool, transit) people take than to actual traffic congestion. Naturally, a higher-density city will have more walkers, bikers and mass transit riders (the density of a city is a category under planning and land use, so there is even more weight given to these categories), but it may also have a great deal of smog-producing traffic congestion.

So it could be the case that a city may have less traffic congestion but score lower on "sustainability" simply because it is a low-density city where taking mass transit, walking or biking to work makes very little sense.

Take Washington, D.C., for example. It has a great metro system and many people can walk or bike to work. However, the traffic is horrific.

The desire for a green, sustainable, high-density, low-cost city with lots of metro riders and little traffic congestion makes it sound like the authors of this report wanted to eat their cake and keep it, too.

The study is more an examination of the preferences of left-of-center urban planners than of true "sustainability."  I look forward to digging deeper into the report over the next few days to see what "sustainability" really means.