Recently we were at the Nashua Sustainability Fair at the Nashua Public Library to celebrate Earth Day. The walkable cities bring a lot of different benefits to cities, everything from a strong tax base to more pleasant places for folks to enjoy. But one thing in Nashua Strong Towns we don’t talk about as much is that creating walkable cities is a huge benefit to the environment.
By building denser housing, increasing the number of storefronts available by foot traffic, and creating areas where folks can get around using micromobility solutions (bikes, scooters, rollerblades, etc.) we can drastically decrease our carbon footprint.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of all of the carbon emissions released by the United States comes from transportation, while an additional 30% come from commercial and residential areas (notably, heating, cooling, and ventilation of these areas)
As a country that is hugely dependent on cars for travel, a huge portion of the emissions created by transportation come from driving, those numbers exacerbated by sprawl. Quoted from the EPA:
In terms of the overall trend, from 1990 to 2021, total transportation emissions have increased due, in large part, to increased demand for travel. The number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by light-duty motor vehicles (passenger cars and light-duty trucks) increased by 45% from 1990 to 2021, as a result of a confluence of factors including population growth, economic growth, urban sprawl, and periods of low fuel prices.
Ensuring we can increase density so we can make the move to more public transportation and away from private motor vehicles ensures our carbon emissions drop drastically.
Likewise, heating and cooling single family houses is extremely inefficient, as none of the walls are attached to anything else. When it comes down to heating and cooling, if transitioned from single family units to multifamily units, each individual person’s carbon footprint could be decreased to almost 25% of what it is from a conventional suburban development.
With all this in mind, at Nashua Strong Towns – we discussed how zoning makes creating mixed use, walkable developments difficult. We are currently working with the planning department to get a proper number, but as it is, Nashua is likely zoned upwards of 80% as single family residential (in areas where housing is currently allowed).
Zoning is currently one of the largest barriers to creating beautiful, sustainable, and walkable developments in the city. Zoning however is super dry, so we set out to inform the town of what zoning is, and why they might want to change the zoning of the city.
Making zoning interesting
At the Sustainability Fair, our Conversation Leader did their best to try and make it easy to understand the current land use codes, and how they affect the current residents.
Lured over with free cookie cubes in exchange a quick trivia question, we included photos of some of the most iconic places in Nashua. Of these places, included were:
- St Xavier/St Mary & Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church (also the tallest building in Nashua according to Wikipedia)
- The Abbot House
- Nashua City Hall
- The Nashua Millyard/Clocktower
- The Greeley Park Pavilion
- The Nashua Public Library
- And the brand new Nashua Performing Arts Center
If they could guess the location based on the photo, we’d give them a cookie cube and they would generally take a little time to listen to our 30 second spiel. We will repeat it below.
With a keen eye, you’ll notice almost all of these locations are in a very small location right in the center of Nashua:
The reasoning for that being it is the only area in the city that uses D1/MU (Downtown/Mixed Use zoning). Almost all other areas in Nashua use either exclusionary single family residential zoning, commercial zoning, or industrial zoning.
While zoning is quite complex, when put into easy terms, most folks can agree that upzoning so they can get more of their favorite places makes perfect sense.
We had a large number of folks come by our table, and a vast majority were in support of upzoning more of Nashua after hearing our explanation of zoning and how it affects their day to day life.
Given there will likely be a new form-based zoning code released for public comment in a month or two, it is important that folks are ready to say they want more mixed-use walkable areas like downtown in Nashua!
If you’re interested in getting more info on when the new zoning code is released for public comment so we can have more walkable, mixed-use areas in Nashua, feel free to follow us on Facebook or join our email lists! We’ll keep you in the loop.
All of the rest of the photos from the Sustainability Fair can be found below: