District 6-3’s Carbon Footprint – An Analysis Downtown Burlington and the Old North End

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Representative Curt McCormack, Burlington              

April, 2017

District 6-3, An Analysis of Relative per capita Carbon Footprint

Vermont Legislative House District Chittenden 6-3 is a two-member (two representatives, twice as many people) in the Vermont House of Representatives located within the City of Burlington. Moving in a counter-clockwise direction on the map, its boundaries are: Manhattan Drive, Pitkin, North, North Champlain, Pearl, Battery and Main streets; Lake Champlain; Maple, Willard, Main, North Union, North and Willard streets; and the Intervale natural area. The district makes up what is called the Old North End and also, Downtown.

Clearly, in a state where the largest city (Burlington) has a population of only 40,000, District 6-3 is going to be among the most densely populated. Residents of this district are likely to live on smaller lots in smaller living space. The residential neighborhood, the Old North End, is adjacent to Downtown, located close to services and other daily destinations making walking and biking more popular, mass transit more practical and fewer and shorter, car trips. Never-the-less, it may surprise readers just how much more energy, space and land-use efficient the residents of District 6-3 live compared to the rest of the State of Vermont giving them a very low carbon footprint compared to most of the rest of the State and the nation.

There is no data collection that compares State legislative districts’ total energy consumption or carbon footprint (commercial buildings, homes, transportation) or total environmental impact or footprint (energy, water, waste, natural resource consumption). I was however, able to find certain statistics that do measure some of these things and other data that when included in certain analyses, can be conclusive for comparison purposes.

Fair comparisons were possible for:

  • Land Use and Land Consumption
  • Carbon and Other Air Pollution Footprint, Buildings
  • Carbon and Other Air Pollution Footprint, Transportation

Land Use and Land Consumption

People per Square Mile

At the basis of energy efficiency regarding where we live, work, study and recreate is how close to each-other we are. Eastern American cities, while newer than most of our European counterparts, were built, populated and grew before municipal zoning and the automobile spread us and our daily destinations, apart. Density informs all of the nine measurements in this study. All other comparisons follow density and are functions of it.

While the density of District 6-3 is extremely high, it makes more sense to use Burlington’s density as explained in Methodologies at the end of the study. Four thousand, one hundred and sixteen people per square mile (4,116/square mile) live in Burlington. This is far greater than our suburban country even with all the major cities pulling that average up. The density of the U.S. is 87 people per square mile. Due to our post 1950 sprawl development, Vermont is now less dense than the nation at 68 (people) per square mile (U.S. Census).

From 1950 to 1990, 86% of the population increase that took place in Vermont, was in the suburbs or exurbs. Only 11% of the increase took place in Vermont cities, towns and village centers (Forum on Sprawl-Smart Growth Vermont-Vermont Natural Resources Council). Since 1990, population numbers decreased and continue to decrease in some of the State’s cities such as Rutland.

From 1982 until 1992, just 10 years, the amount of developed land in Vermont increased by 25.3% while the population increased by only 9.8%. Forty percent of the newly developed land had been pasture or cropland. This ratio of land consumption vs. population growth at 2.63 for Vermont, presents a greater disparity than both New Hampshire (2.11) and Maine (1.91) during the same period (Forum on Sprawl-Smart Growth Vermont-Vermont Natural Resources Council). It is also a clear indicator that when we continue to refer to our State as rural we no longer mean agricultural but suburban or very suburban as in exurban.

The population of Burlington was dropping as well until the 1990s when it would reverse and see small increases in the two censuses since then but at nowhere near the increases of its own suburbs, the rest of Chittenden County. The floor space and developed land in District 6-3 increased slightly over these years. Since 2013, more infill, mostly housing, development has occurred adding slightly to the district’s housing and population numbers. Population increased more than housing floor space did raising the district’s housing density (fewer square feet per person).

Statistics that indicate land consumption include how long we keep, use and occupy existing or historical housing. Burlington is one of hundreds of historical American cities making a come back in an era that could be called, Back to the City. In so doing, almost no open or farmland is consumed. Indeed, more often land is restored as urban infill development and re-development often requires the removal of contaminated soils and decrepit buildings as they are replaced or saved and restored with more energy efficient, secure and safer buildings. Often, these revigorated neighborhoods and commercial centers will see a net increase in trees and parkland and provide much needed affordable housing.

Housing Size (Square Feet per Person)

In 1896 residential floor space per person in the U.S. was 400 square feet. Today it is 800 sq. ft., twice as much. District 6-3, with a population of 8,682 (2014 Census estimate) occupies 414 sq. feet per person of floor space. I was unable to find a source(s) from which to estimate this number for the State. Given our tendency to sprawled single-family housing development since World War II and otherwise typically American post-war development patterns, there is no reason to think that Vermont floor space per person is much lower than that of the nation.

 Houses Built Before 1940

Restoring and continuing to use, existing in-town buildings vs. constructing new ones in undeveloped places saves on all three of the bulleted criteria above. Only 13.5% of the houses in the United States today were built before 1940. Twenty-seven point five percent (27.5%) of Vermont homes were built before 1940. At 63.2%, the percentage of houses in District 6-3 that were built before 1940, is well more than twice that of the State and nearly five times that of the nation.

When we consider that the national figure includes large cities and towns and that Vermont’s figure includes our historical cities and towns, clearly Vermont has grown in much the same way as the nation, mainly by sprawling out and constructing new homes far more than we have restored existing, in-town, homes.

Residential Energy Use

The amount of total energy used in Vermont homes was comparable to the District by converting electricity, home heating oil and natural gas into Btus (British Thermal Units) – see methodology, below. This comparison is for home building energy only, commercial buildings and transportation are not included in this analysis. The average Vermont household energy consumption is 121,306,400 Btus per year. This is 24% greater than District 6-3’s consumption, which is 98,032,704 Btus.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study: Location Efficiency and Housing Type, estimates that the total energy consumption is as much as 50% less per household if the house is in-town vs. out-of-town. This comparison considers only transportation. Other savings of in-town housing would only increase this tremendous energy advantage such as relative smaller size of housing units and the sharing of walls and ceiling/floors of apartments, “row” and “town” houses.

“In this comparison, the most effective way to reduce energy consumption is to locate homes of all types in areas where households could replace some automobile use with transit use, leading to reductions of 39 to 50 percent in household energy use.”

– EPA, Location Efficiency and Housing Type

Transportation

No Automobile in Household

Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, household data collection that includes much relevant data, some of it broken down to State Legislative districts a la, District 6-3, transportation comparisons were possible.

Nearly one-third, 31.5% of the households in District 6-3 have no automobile. Nine percent (9%) of U.S. households have no automobile and in Vermont the percentage is only 6.6%. More Vermont households have at least one automobile, which is below the national average.

Walking to Work

 

No doubt related, if not correlated to, the great disparity in above mentioned automobile ownership, would be the percentage of work commutes accomplished on foot. Twenty four percent (24%) of District 6-3 workers walk to work whereas, only 5.7% of Vermonters and 2.8% of Americans accomplish this task in this most basic, energy efficient and healthy manner. This is mainly because people in District 6-3 live closer to where they work and because many of them manage to live and operate in the Car World without one.

Bicycling to Work

The Census had bicycling to work data for the country and also by State. The U.S. average is 0.6% (workers who bike to work). The State of Vermont at 0.7%, is just above that. I was able to back into an estimate for District 6-3 of 9.5%, nearly 14 times greater than that of the State.

Taking Public Transit to Work

Few commuters take public transit to work. Even with cities like New York pulling the average up, the national average is 5.1%, Vermont (with District 6-3 and the rest of Burlington bringing the average up slightly), is a dismal 1.2%. A more encouraging 7.9% of District 6-3 commuters take the bus.

Driving to Work Solo

Most U.S. and Vermont work commutes are by automobile, driver only, no other passengers. In the U.S., 76.4% of workers drive to work alone. Vermont, at 74.5%, is right, once again, does not stand out. However, only 44% of District 6-3 commuters commute this way.

Summary

U.S. Vermont District 6-3
Residential Buildings
People per square mile (# of people) 87 68 > 4,116 (Burl.)
Housing size (square feet/person) 800 414
Housing Built Before 1940 (%) 13.5 27.5 63.2
Home Building Energy (million btu) 121.3 98 (Burl.)
Transportation
No Automobile in Household (%) 9 6.6 31.5
Walk to Work (%) 2.8 5.7 24
Bicycle to Work (%) 0.6 0.7 9.5
Public Transit to Work (%) 5.1 1.2 7.9
Commute to Work by Car Solo (%) 76.4 74.5 44

Methodologies

Residential Buildings:

People per square mile

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Burlington, as opposed to District 6-3, was used for comparison to the rest of the State and country since there are no large parks, farm or open land within the boundaries of District 6-3. The district does however, border the Intervale – open to the public for a number of activities including recreation and farming. A measurement of people per square mile of only the district would make the district appear more densely populated (13,227 people/square mile) than it is in reality since residents have ready access to the Intervale and Waterfront Park. A more accurate density for the district would be to take the entire City, which includes the Intervale as well as large parks, ball fields, college campuses and the waterfront. Burlington’s density is 4,116 people/square mile, which makes sense since larger more densely populated cities can be twice as dense as that such as Washington, DC, at 9,857 people/square mile.

Housing Built Before 1940

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

This data was available on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey including State legislative districts such as District 6-3.

Housing Size

Source: U.S. Census and Burlington City Assessor’s Office

  1. The sum of all the residential square footage on the City Assessor’s parcel maps that are located within the boundaries of District 6-3 +
  2. The sum of the portion of parcel maps that are located on or overlap the District boundary.
  3. Of the, upwards of, 20 land use types found on the Assessor’s Bankers and Tradesmen Report, all those that include any residential parcels, (single-family, multi-family, apartments, condominiums, buildings that include both residential and commercial) and were inside of the district as determined by steps 1. and 2. above were made into one Excel list. The sum of this list was 3,684,770 square feet.

Since the assessor’s maps were more up to date (2016) than the Census population estimates (2014), the parcel maps included several large apartment houses that were opened before the last assessment and therefore on the list, but after the last census. With the help of the property owners and tenants of three of the larger new buildings, I added to the 2014 Census estimate their estimate totaling 220 people:

8,682 (2014 Census) + 220 = 8,902 people

8,902 (pop) / 3,684,770 (total residential square feet) = 414 square feet per person

Residential Building Energy

Sources: Vermont Department of Public Service; Green Mountain Power Inc.; Vermont Association of Home Heating Dealers; Vermont Gas Systems Inc.; Burlington Electric Department

1 gallon fuel oil = 138,200 Btu

1 million cubic feet natural gas = 1,000,000 Btu

1 kilowatthour electricity = 3,412 Btu

Between these three energy sources, home heating, water heating, cooking, clothes drying, lighting and plug load (the many things that are pulled into electrical outlets) are accounted for. Solar water heating and solar (photo voltaic) electrical systems and wood space heating and wood water heating are inherently accounted for as they lower the amount of oil, gas or electricity used by those with them as does conservation and efficiency.

Transportation:

No Automobile in Household; Walk to Work; Public Transit to Work and Drive Automobile to Work Solo

Source: U.S. Census Bureau had data on the nation, Vermont and District 6-3 for all of these transportation modes.

Bicycle to Work

The Census had data for all of the commute to work modes above. It had bicycle to work data for the nation and for the State but not for Legislative districts. To estimate the percentage of those who commute by bicycle in District 6-3, I added all of the commute to work data, (all the other modes that the Census did have) added a figure for “other” based on the State and the nation’s “other” figure; subtracted the sum from 100 (%) and assumed that the balance, 9.5%, must have commuted by bicycle since all other modes: walking, public transit, working at home, driving alone, driving in car-pool, van-pool, were included.