Saint Louis University

Carbon Dioxide and Urban Form

Urban Form CO2

Faculty: Dr. Thomas W. Crawford

Dr. Crawford presented "Urban form as a technological driver of carbon dioxide emissions" at the 2nd International Conference on Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) in Taipei, Taiwan, November 6-8, 2014.

UGEC is a core project of the International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP) that seeks to provide a better understanding of the interactions and feedbacks between global environmental change and urbanization at local, regional, and global scales. This research was supported by a Fulbright research award, during which Dr. Crawford spent a semester at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK.

This work integrates themes from GIScience, land change science, and structural human ecology to investigate the influences of urban form on CO2 emissions in on-road and residential sectors in the U.S. Theorizing that urban form is a sociotechnical system and technological driver extends the STIRPAT human structural ecology paradigm.

Researchers assembled county-level emissions data inventory data and used a remote sensing classification product to quantify spatial composition measures of urban form for 3,108 conterminous U.S. counties. Spatial error regression models alternately insert variables measuring population and developed area. This strategy enables researchers to form new interpretations of the effects of population, affluence and urban form.

Results confirm prior findings for the effects of population and density and original results showing urban heat island effects for residential emissions and carbon reduction benefits achievable through a developed land use mix containing a greater proportion of high intensity relative to low intensity use. Urban form matters, but it matters differently in terms of sign, significance, and interpretation, depending on emission sector and metro versus nonmetro status.

Implications are that a focus on urban form provides policymakers greater leverage for carbon mitigation compared to the structural human ecology's traditional focus on population and affluence. However, the effects of urban form must be tempered by recognition of their modest quantitative magnitude compared to the much larger effects made possible by transition to cleaner energy sources and less consumptive human behaviors.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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