The Environmental Impact of Housing Developments

There’s a growing need for housing globally. Many cities have seen a significant drop in the number of affordable homes available to residents.


Is it Possible to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Housing Developments?


Guest Post by Kris Lindahl

Those seeking to purchase homes are forced to spend more to get what they need, pushing the dream of homeownership further away.

This is very much evident in countries such as New Zealand. Yet, new development is occurring in many areas. A focus on affordable housing is clear in many areas, but it comes at the risk of developing rural areas. Is it possible to develop housing that doesn’t displace wildlife?

The Importance of Biodiversity Conservation

It’s clear that protecting rural and wilderness-dense areas is critical to preserving wildlife and delicate ecosystems. Biodiversity, or biological diversity, refers to the diversity and varied living organisms in a particular area. This type of diversity expands to various species as well as terrestrial, aquatic, marine, and other ecosystems. Biodiversity is essential to overall conservation. When present, it ensures every species within that ecosystem has a role to play. As a result, it creates a natural sustainability for all life forms.

Consider just how valuable biodiversity is. It is the cornerstone of human existence on the planet. The animals themselves provide humans with food. The plants create important medications such as penicillin and aspirin. There are over 80,000 edible plants on the planet, most of which have yet to be consumed in large amounts.

Biodiversity also protects the air by filtering out toxins and creating oxygen. It helps protect the water. The bacteria and fungi present work to break down organic material, creating soil, that allows for crop growth. In short, to live, humans need a diverse ecosystem around them.

The key concern here, then, stems from whether the development of housing into these delicate environments negatively impacts this all-important diversity. Is it possible to develop houses for humans that respect this biodiversity requirement?

Smart Growth Isn’t Always Sustainable Enough

Many countries and individual cities have smart growth plans. These plans differ from one location to the next, which themselves are dependent on the homebuyer trends of the area. For example, are people purchasing homes that are pre-existing, or building new?They encourage the design, location, and development of housing that remains affordable for human access while also reducing the impact on the world around them.

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines very specific Smart Growth Guidelines for design and development that’s sustainable. The goal is to locate housing developments where it makes sense financially and on sustainable efforts. For example, the cost to develop a new housing development is more than putting in a roadway and building a home.

Infrastructure is far more complex, especially in rural areas. The more complex and expansive it is, the more expensive housing becomes. Therefore, to reduce costs, careful consideration of location and transportation is essential.

But, the other side of this process is creating these affordable housing developments that also offer a sustainable approach. These approaches often focus on ensuring communities are walkable, offer parks, and provide open space. They also focus on locally sourcing materials and reducing energy consumption. These are good steps, but they do little to protect the local ecosystem and biodiversity in the rural areas where these developments continue to sprout up.

What Is the Impact of Housing Developments in These Locations?

How concerning is it that these diverse ecosystems so important to human existence are being removed as affordable housing continues to be developed? The amount of impact is rather unknown.  A study from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America provides an examination of housing growth in and near conservation-valuable areas.

The study found that, between 1940 and 2000, there were 28 million homes built within 50 km of protected areas. It also found that 940,000 were built within U.S. national forests, some of the most biodiverse areas in the country. If the current rate continues, this will mean an additional 17 million homes will be built within 50 km of protected areas by 2030.

This type of build-up is most certainly damaging to these habitats, but the direct impact of that on human well-being is yet unknown. Much of this buildup has occurred only in the last 50 years, making it difficult to see the true amount of impact likely.

Are Solutions Available to Prevent This?

There’s no clear answer as to how to grow housing availability without impacting the environment in a negative way. However, organisations are working towards better understanding the connection between the built environment and the relationship on land resources, habitat, air, water, and overall human health. The Horizon International Solutions Site is working on solutions through studying the impact and create solutions for it. The U.S. EPA is also working to advance solutions in this area. And, with each step in this direction, progress is being made to minimize this risk.

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