Stockton’s highest-polluting zip codes show need to curb sprawl, promote infill

Last month, I wrote about the well-intentioned but short-sighted green building ordinance under consideration by the city that would have required costly upgrades for energy efficiency in the renovation of older homes. In the article, I wrote that while older homes indeed use more energy, these emissions pale in comparison to automobile emissions from newer areas where driving is required. Rather than saddle potential homeowners with more costs, it makes more sense to encourage more people to live in older neighborhoods.

Last week, research released by UC Berkeley’s ClimateCool Network reaffirmed this view, showing that most of Stockton’s 2013 emissions come from the outskirts, and mostly because of driving. I have reproduced the data from the paper below (click on each area to see the data), where you can see the amount of emissions the average household is responsible for by Stockton’s various zip codes, and how these emissions break down by origin (note: the zip code boundaries are approximate, as reported by the researchers. I also shortened the area of the zip codes whose area includes large swaths of land away from Stockton i.e. 95219).  

As you can see, emissions rise farther out from the city’s core. In fact, homes around Downtown Stockton (95202) have the lowest emissions by far—24.6 metric tons CO2 equivalent on average. As you venture further out, Stockton’s older zip codes exhibit slightly higher emissions, and the areas on the outskirts turn out to be the city’s biggest polluters overall. Stockton’s highest polluting zip code is 95209, with homes accounting for an average of 51.2 metric tons of CO2 (the national average is 48). This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as residents of outlying areas have to drive more, thereby emitting more pollution.

There is already enough single-family housing to meet demand through 2050, according to recent market research

Stockton’s highest-polluting zip code is 95209

As it turns out, the data from the Berkeley report confirms that driving is the main culprit for Stockton’s pollution woes. The report breaks down household emissions by the source— transportation, housing, foods, goods, and services— and the differences between Stockton zip codes are stark. Referring back to the map above, you’ll notice that transportation takes up the largest share of emissions for each zip code, with the exception of downtown. As you move further from the core, transportation emissions rise.

The information presented by the Berkeley report tells us two things. First, emissions are worst at the periphery, and largely because of transportation patterns. As I have written before, the real problem with Stockton’s air quality is linked to excessive sprawl and the driving habits it encourages. While older homes are leaky, they are close to amenities and therefore do not require as much driving, which is ultimately the main driver (pun intended) of pollution in the Central Valley. The data from Berkeley proves this point, as Stockton’s greenest zip codes are the ones closest to the city’s core. The greenest policy the city could undertake would be to focus new growth inward.

Data shows that fewer Ame

Transportation is the city’s largest culprit of emissions, which is why infill in walkable areas is needed

Second, if Stockton wants to get serious about cleaning the air, infill alone won’t get us there. The report’s authors conclude that even though there is a positive correlation between density and air quality, these gains vanish once you take into account the corresponding increase of suburbanization. This is of particular concern here in Stockton. Even if the city were to reach its goal of 4,000 new downtown housing units by 2020, there are still around 30,000 “paper lots” already approved by the city for development on the city’s outskirts. That doesn’t even take into account other proposed developments that developers are trying to sneak in, such as the Bear Creek East development proposed last month (though thankfully, it was voted down by the planning commission).

While we may very well see downtown housing start to take hold in the coming years, allowing sprawl to continue would easily negate any real air quality progress. Will Stockton’s city leaders show the resolve  to resist new suburban homes, even in the face of a housing market recovery? I certainly hope so, because if not, its bad news for anyone breathing Central Valley air.

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Categories: Smart Growth, Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

5 Comments on “Stockton’s highest-polluting zip codes show need to curb sprawl, promote infill”

  1. Jon Seisa
    January 15, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Urban core infill is just one piece of the pie in terms of solutions, in my analysis. We should also work outwards-to-inwards and dovetail this with “Suburban Reformation”, where simultaneously there needs to be a reordering of the suburb outskirts, “suburban retrofitting”, and the introduction of new design options to circumvent this escalating CO2 carbon emissions trend where infill mixed-use and amenity access are provided in suburbia within a tolerable localized distance so that residents can curtail their driving. Don’t you think? Certainly new suburban design strategies for city peripheral zones should be seriously considered where amenities are within walking distance and within denser residential living, thus taking the sprawl out of suburbia. These areas should be designed (and redesigned) as “self-sufficient satellites” and what “The Pedestrian Pocket Book” termed “Mid-Use Towns”.





  2. David Garcia
    January 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I agree, infill won’t be as successful if it only takes place in the core. “Gray field” development is another option to utilize all of that parking space we have around town. I also recommend “Retrofitting Suburbia”

    • Jon Seisa
      January 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

      Indeed. I love Williamson’s work. There is also an annual design competition called “Reburbia” that’s interesting in reinventing the suburbs and generating new design ideas. Here are the winners from 2009:

      • Bill Fuhs
        January 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

        The Big Box Agriculture: A Productive Suburb would be a natural for Stockton. Not only use our empty parking lots, but supply jobs and food for Stocktonian’s.

  3. Jon Seisa
    January 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    David, you may find this 2006 study and its stats extremely helpful and robust with some focused analysis on San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago: “Urban Design to Reduce Automobile Dependence” by Peter Newman and Jeffery Kenworthy from Opolis: An International Journal of Suburban and Metropolitan Studies.

    It concludes that a car-dependent city can be restructured, and suggests sectors to a city should be redesigned as interdependent and interconnected nodule nerve centers, like the Mid-Use Towns as mentioned by “The Pedestrian Pocket Book”. The study does mention a disconnect between New Urbanist rhetoric and reality to deliver workable results but the analysis emphasizes this has to do more with a required urban intensity threshold per hectare to shift from automobile dependency.

    A major goal of urban design, especially in centers, is to reduce automobile dependence
    in order to address issues of viability and sustainability. Long-term data from cities around the world appear to show that there is a fundamental threshold of urban intensity (residents and jobs) of around 35 per hectare1 where automobile dependence is significantly reduced. This article seeks to determine a theoretical base for what the data show. It suggests that below the threshold intensity of urban activity, the physical constraints of distance and time enforce car use as the norm. The basis of these physical constraints is outlined and the link between density and access to services that provide amenity is established, including the service levels of public transport. A design technique for viability of centers is suggested as well as how a city can restructure itself to overcome automobile dependence.


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