Study: Transit to new areas and infill housing helps environment
Turning to infill housing as a viable alternative to the sprawl of outlying neighborhoods, however, can provide significant environmental benefits, the report said, with studies showing that people who live in infill developments typically drive less.
"Less driving means fewer emissions from transportation per resident," the study said. "Furthermore, reusing land in areas that are already surrounded by buildings, roads and infrastructure can help reduce pressure to develop open land on the fringes of the metropolitan region — such as farms and other working lands, recreational areas or environmentally sensitive wild lands."
Wilf Sommerkorn, Salt Lake City's planning director, said the metro area has naturally had to turn to building on previously built land.
"Salt Lake City is pretty much all built out. There are little pockets of undeveloped land here and there, but almost all of our development is infill development," he said.
The Gateway, for example, occupies a former railroad yard, and Artspace, west of the city's downtown area, sits in space once taken up by warehouses and industry.
Sommerkorn also pointed to the Granary District on the western side of Salt Lake City, City Creek with its 500 housing units, new grocery store and mall; the planned streetcar line in Sugar House, adding to the impact of TRAX and Frontrunner along the Wasatch Front. The City Creek project was not a part of the calculation that resulted in the report released this month.
The EPA analysis of residential construction trends stretching back to 2000 found that regions with a higher investment in rail transit tended to have higher shares of infill development.
Overall, infill represented one-fifth of all new housing construction in the metropolitan areas that were part of the analysis.
Klemm said as transit continues to reach new areas infill housing will become an even more dominant trend.
"We need to capitalize on that transit. Every time we can do that, we save some open space, we incentivize transit use and get people out of cars," he said. "That delays the day that we have to widen the roads more, and that helps a little with air quality, accommodating people who choose that lifestyle."