Sierra Club Updates Urban Infill Policy

By Steve Birdlebough

Chapter Transportation Chair

Sierra Club recently updated its Infill Development Policy to help cities and towns address the housing and climate change crises by preventing sprawling developments, reducing automobile dependence and preserving wildlife habitat. 

The policy calls on policymakers to steer their focus toward developing compact, walkable communities with a jobs-housing balance that reduces our day-to-day carbon footprint. As residential and commercial densities gradually increase, neighborhoods become more pedestrian friendly and visually appealing. It is important for these neighborhoods to be close to safe paths for bicycles and good-quality public transportation.

In order to realize these goals, the policy calls for transformative strategies that build communities with:

  •  Affordable housing that is accessible to all; 
  •  Transit, bike and pedestrian-first approaches to transportation; 
  •  Expanded opportunities for all residents to participate in the local economy and civic decisions; 
  •  Living-wage jobs; 
  •  A balance between employment opportunities and housing; 
  •  Access to education, services, amenities and recreation that improves overall quality of life; and 
  •  Measures and policies that increase climate resilience.    

The policy statement acknowledges that traditional zoning practices in the United States have led to social inequities, economic insecurity and increased greenhouse gas emissions. By calling for living wage jobs located close to affordable housing, plus advocating for mixed-use developments which support diverse food markets, cafes, and other businesses, the policy aims to bring more balance to communities while strengthening local economies.

In many communities, the policy will lead to more frequent transit service, with fares that are less costly than driving and parking a car, thereby reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The policy also emphasizes the importance of equitable access to affordable housing. Developments must not reinforce existing racial, ethnic, and class segregation. There is a need to actively address the history of social inequities which many low-income people have experienced. 

It is important for people of different social classes and backgrounds to be fully involved in planning infill projects. Their engagement can assure there is good access to schools, recreation, job training, employment centers and social services. Such engagement can prevent unsustainable actions and policies, whether they involve transportation, finances, urban planning, climate or the natural environment. 

Now is the time for each group in Redwood Chapter to examine local planning and zoning practices, compare them with this updated Infill Policy, and do what we can to further infill and prevent urban sprawl. 

Concerns about climate change, social inequality, thriving walkable neighborhoods, and preservation of our natural places must be paramount for us, and well-designed infill projects can address each of these concerns.

Implementation of the Infill Policy was discussed at a national workshop and at the September meeting of the California Conservation Committee (formerly the CNRCC). A national committee is currently working on implementation guidelines, and our suggestions, based on an examination of existing local practices, are welcome. 

Read the whole policy.