Planners Look to ‘Activity Centers’ for Sustainable Development

While the term “15-minute city” has been co-opt­ed by con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists to push base­less claims, a new con­cept may be tak­ing its place. As Gaby Galvin writes in Smart Cities Dive, “as city lead­ers look to pro­mote more sus­tain­able growth, they’re rely­ing on ‘activ­i­ty cen­ters’ — hyper­local of , retail, tourism, civic insti­tu­tions and social pur­suits — to peo­ple access every­thing they less or no dri­ving.”

Although “Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom sug­gests that greater pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty trans­lates to more walk­ing, bik­ing and pub­lic tran­sit use, thus low­er­ing car­bon emis­sions from cars,” Galvin explains that “the rela­tion­ship isn’t actu­al­ly so straight­for­ward, with local poli­cies play­ing a major role, researchers say.” Now, pol­i­cy­mak­ers in cities Boise and San Anto­nio are look­ing to exist­ing activ­i­ty cen­ters as a for sus­tain­able future devel­op­ment and iden­ti­fy­ing poli­cies that will sup­port dense, tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment.

Accord­ing to Robert Puentes, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Eno Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion, “It’s less about just con­cen­trat­ing [homes and jobs] so that peo­ple can use tran­sit to get to those parts of the region, [and more about] try­ing to con­cen­trate more of the work and play around these activ­i­ty cen­ters.”

Adie Tomer, a senior fel­low at Brook­ings Metro, cau­tions that activ­i­ty cen­ters, far from a panacea, can eas­i­ly encour­age more dri­ving if built around sprawl­ing shop­ping cen­ters, for exam­ple. “Ulti­mate­ly, iden­ti­fy­ing where activ­i­ty cen­ters are in a metro area is just one tool for city , devel­op­ers and local offi­cials as they map out the future of their regions.” Tomer adds, “The activ­i­ty cen­ter frame­work ‘should help inform a sweep­ing set of deci­sions: Where do we want to pri­or­i­tize devel­op­ment? How do we under­stand which more with one anoth­er, so we can do cer­tain invest­ments in these places?’”

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