I was perplexed to hear that Asheville’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment is “frustrated” because of City Council’s focus on “equity” and “housing” [“Resilience Road Map: Asheville Prepares Municipal Climate Action Plan,” Aug. 31, Xpress]. The issues facing our city aren’t at odds; they couldn’t be more compatible.
Building more housing — in places where communities, jobs, transit, infrastructure and amenities already exist — is by consensus a key component of the fight against the climate crisis. It means shortening and eliminating car trips, which contribute enormously to greenhouse gas emissions.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposed that climate solutions include “targeted infilling … [to] achieve compact urban form” and using “density” to promote walking, biking and transit.
The Green Party’s 2020 platform aims to “promote urban infill with affordable housing, mass transit … [and] bicycle and walking paths.”
The national Sierra Club’s 2021 smart growth and urban infill guidance statement suggests that density in housing can “dramatically cut our climate emissions while creating more convenient and equitable neighborhoods” and simultaneously make “housing accessible to all.”
And the recent White House Housing Supply Action Plan pushes for “location-efficient, modest density that can … reduce greenhouse gas emissions — particularly when paired with state and local policies that remove barriers to where these kinds of housing can be located.”
That last phrase is key. The barriers that the White House is referring to are municipal codes, including lot-size minimums and single-family-home requirements, that add up to “exclusionary zoning.” These codes prevent cities from building where homes are needed the most. They privilege the desires of well-to-do property owners over the needs of both the climate and the housing insecure.
MountainTrue and Asheville for All are just a couple of local organizations that already see the connections between the housing crisis and the climate catastrophe. I hope that Sunrise Asheville and the local Sierra Club, both of whom were mentioned in the above-cited article, will join with them and that the city will join, too, to see their interests and struggles as aligned.
— Andrew Paul