Cities Actually Have a Lot of Control Over Climate Change

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I wrote about the C40 Cities initiatve at Next City a couple weeks back, and now Atlantic Cities has a piece up with some cool charts showing how much power Mayors around the world feel they have over key local policy levers that impact greenhouse gas pollution:

There are more charts over there, but I want to focus on these two because they really comprise the main tools in the toolkit: land use planning, on-street parking, the allocation of right-of-way on city roads, and stormwater management.

The key challenge in my experience is getting local officials to view their policy choices in these areas as having an important impact on climate change, and then to accept the responsibility to use these tools to mitigate climate change.

In Philadelphia, city politicians and officials don’t have a lot of control over how much money SEPTA gets. As my friend Jake Blumgart points out, the local contribution from SEPTA’s 5-county area is a pathetic 1.4% and we don’t currently have an option to tax ourselves to top up our service levels – a frustrating fact considering that this is the richest region of the state, where the biggest chunk of Pennsylvania’s revenue comes from.

But money isn’t even the key policy lever here: land use and especially parking policy are.

Philadelphia city officials actually have a large amount of power over how many people commute into the city by pollution-heavy private cars vs. how many commute in by relatively cleaner transit options, because our land use policies strongly influence how many parking spaces there are, and how much they cost.

Pittsburgh has a climate-friendly 40% parking tax, while ours is a measly 20%. We underprice our curb parking meters, and our residential curb parking permits are subsidized at scandalously high levels. And our ultra low taxes on land values make it profitable for private landowners to operate surface parking lot businesses right in our city center, within walking distance of heavy rail stations and some of the higher-frequency bus lines.

Philadelphia only controls a few policy levers that can have a serious impact on climate change. We can’t broker an international treaty with China and India, and we can’t levy carbon taxes on coal energy production in Applachia. But we do control a few key policy levers that have a big impact on housing and commercial development and transportation mode choice within the Greater Philadelphia region, and our status quo policy choices in these areas are an absolute disaster for the climate.

This entry was posted in Energy, Environment, Land Use, Philadelphia 2015, Transportation.

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