Housing is redefined as a climate concern in a recent executive order by Colorado Governor Jared Polis that aims to limit urban sprawl, promote mass transit, and protect air, water, and green spaces while making affordable, efficient homes more readily available.
To house the 1.72 million people Colorado expects to add by 2050, “the choice is not between growth and no growth,” Polis writes [pdf]. Rather, Coloradans can settle for more traffic, longer commutes, and sprawling neighbourhoods that eat into agricultural land and natural resources, or opt for “strategic growth that saves money, supports our economy, uplifts people, and protects our environment.”
Daily commutes contribute nearly 15% of Colorado’s annual carbon footprint, Polis explains, and the distance the average Coloradan drives each year has risen 20% over the past four decades. The state needs new housing for every budget, “while reducing sprawl and protecting Colorado’s vital resources, including the State’s air, water, and open spaces.”
The Democratic governor’s executive order comes three months after his housing bill, which would have taken zoning decisions out of the hands of local governments, died on the legislature floor. It could lay the groundwork, progressives hope, for Colorado Democrats to consider housing legislation again next year, reports ClimateWire.
Noting that Colorado has “current unmet housing needs of tens of thousands of units,” Polis lays out a vision for how to fill the gap.
“Increasing housing availability and affordability will depend on improved collaboration aimed at creating more housing units, especially close to existing, new, or expanded public transit, safe biking, and walking corridors, places of employment, and other everyday needs of Coloradans,” he writes. In addition to being “more affordable for a greater number of Coloradans,” he adds, the units will “use significantly less energy and use less water per capita per acre, saving residents money and reducing pollution and conserving our precious water and natural resources.”
He writes that such strategic growth will strengthen local economies, thanks to reduced transportation and infrastructure costs, and thus lower greenhouse gas emissions.
“We must be thoughtful about how we grow and develop across the State,” he writes.
To that end, several of the goals in the executive order explicitly connect housing with climate policy, including a directive to “incentivize efficient development patterns that align with our climate and air quality goals, use less energy, conserve water, and require less infrastructure.”
The order also addresses food security and biodiversity, with a vision to “reduce development pressures in agricultural and open space areas.”
Polis has directed all agencies that report to him—including the state departments of energy, economic development, transportation, natural resources, local affairs, public health, and personnel—to make an inventory of their housing policies and recommend ways to align them with the state’s climate and community goals. The inventories are due on his desk by December 15.