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Alex Greenfield

Sep 15, 2023 • Housing

Housing Shortages and the Environment: A Sustainable Solution in Building More

How Addressing Housing Shortages Can Pave the Way for a Sustainable Future

Housing Shortages and the Environment: A Sustainable Solution in Building More

In the intertwined web of urban planning and environmental sustainability, housing sits as a crucial intersection. It's counterintuitive to many: building more houses sounds like it would harm the environment, given the resources required for construction. However, when done right, increasing housing can offer both social benefits and green solutions. Let's explore the environmental impact of housing shortages and how thoughtful construction can actually be beneficial for our planet.

The Environmental Consequences of Housing Shortages:

Urban Sprawl: In the face of housing shortages, cities often spread out rather than up, consuming vast swaths of green land. This sprawling landscape leads to more extensive transportation networks, often reliant on personal vehicles. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology in 2013 showed that urban sprawl contributed significantly to increased vehicle emissions, a major source of greenhouse gases.

Inefficient Transportation: As housing becomes concentrated in peripheral areas due to shortages in urban cores, longer commutes become a necessity. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounts for 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the further people have to travel, the larger this percentage grows.

Degradation of Green Spaces: Expanding urban boundaries often leads to deforestation and the loss of natural habitats, affecting biodiversity. These green spaces act as the lungs of our cities, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

Building More Houses: A Sustainable Response

Smart Urban Planning: By increasing housing density in urban areas, we can reduce the physical footprint of a city. Case in point: Copenhagen. This city's commitment to building vertically and sustainably has protected surrounding natural habitats, minimized urban sprawl, and created a more walkable city, reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Efficient Resource Use: Modern housing can utilize green construction methods, sustainable materials, and energy-efficient designs. The Global Ecolabelling Network has identified that green buildings can use 40% less energy and 50% less water compared to conventional buildings.

Integration of Green Technologies: New constructions can incorporate technologies such as solar panels, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting systems, which not only reduce the environmental footprint of houses but also contribute positively to the environment.

Shared Resources: Increased housing in compact areas can foster shared resources like community gardens, shared transportation (like carpooling or community buses), and shared amenities, reducing individual environmental impacts.

Case Study: Portland, Oregon:

Portland stands as a beacon of hope for urban planners and environmentalists alike. The city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) initiative was introduced in the 1970s to control urban sprawl. While this restricted outward growth, it necessitated denser housing solutions within the city limits. Today, with its green buildings, efficient transportation options like cycling and light rail, and preservation of natural habitats, Portland showcases how addressing housing shortages can align with environmental stewardship.


Housing shortages and their associated sprawl exert undeniable pressures on our environment. Yet, by viewing construction through the lens of sustainability, we can turn the challenge of housing shortages into an opportunity for environmental progress. Building more houses, when approached with environmental consciousness, can lead to greener, more efficient cities that benefit both the residents and the world they inhabit.

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