Climate Change: Will Focus on Cities Leave Small Towns Behind?

Climate Change, science
Climate change in cities is the focus of a newly issued report by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, but with efforts targeted toward urban areas, will small towns be left behind? The organization, presided over by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, analyzes how cities can prevent climate change. The report surveyed what the 63 member cities had done to address sustainability thus far.

What about small towns? What efforts are being made in the suburbs, in the college towns tucked away from the hustle of the city, and in the agricultural areas, to address climate change issues? Are preventative measures taken where they can be?

In Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University and 53,000 residents, developers are going to build new student housing on what is now open land. Not barren land either. The area supports diverse ecology, and includes 23 acres of wetland, and threatened oak savannah.

Water runoff from the land flows into nearby Oak Creek. Building on undeveloped land blocks water from being reabsorbed into the ground. Instead, water flows directly to waterways, increasing the amount in areas like Oak Creek, which elevates flood risk. At the same time, overall ground water levels decrease as the majority of water funnels to one area.

Reducing flood risk was the number one intervention taken by cities in the C40 member group. Reducing vulnerability to increased temperatures, improving biodiversity and managing storm runoff were also in the top ten climate change reduction actions taken by cities worldwide. Yet in Corvallis, building on wetland area stands in opposition to these global efforts taken in urban areas.

Converting open land to built space increases vulnerability to rising temperatures. Pavement reflects heat, and human activity is known to increase heat in urban areas. When the student housing is built in Corvallis, it will increase the small town’s vulnerability to rising temperatures. The biodiversity of the oak savannah will also be decimated, and storm runoff will be complicated.

Corvallis residents voted against the development, but city councilmembers recently went against the wishes of their constituents and voted to approve it. Oregon State University has added nearly 10,000 students since 2001, and has advocated building more housing for the swelling student population.

The area where the developments would take place is not on or bordering OSU’s campus. Student populations are also projected to begin decreasing in the near future.

As global leaders grapple with how to prepare their constituents for climate change threats, places like Corvallis hold promise for preventative measures, yet they seem to be overlooked. While global leaders focus on sustainability in cities, will small towns be left behind?

This past week an unprecedented amount of snow slammed Corvallis and other towns in Oregon. Corvallis is in a valley and is usually host to cool, rainy, temperate weather. Snow is a rarity, and over six inches in February is unheard of.

For the most part, cities don’t have to address development of ecologically diverse land since most of the land has already been developed. The challenge facing urban areas is how to maximize the efficiency of spaces, and incorporate green space and sustainable living habits while accommodating dense populations.

The C40 report revealed that in the last two years, cities have doubled the number of actions taken to reduce climate change. Actions fit into one of seven categories that include transportation, energy efficiency, energy supply, waste, water and adaptation, finance and sustainable communities.

The C40 leaders are predominantly mayors and local leaders, 98 percent of whom see climate change as a significant threat to their areas. Group members collaborate and share ideas on how to reduce the carbon footprint of cities, resulting in everything from expansion of bus rapid transit systems to installation of LED streetlights and expansion of shared cycle programs.

While cities are addressing the question of how to change existing structures to reduce climate change impacts, small towns such as Corvallis are seeing wetland area disappear to development. Preventative measures are brazenly overlooked even while urban areas struggle to undo threatening side effects of development. As leaders focus their climate change efforts on cities, will small towns be left behind?

By Julia Waterhous

Corvallis Gazette Times
Climate Action in Megacities
NJ Department of Environmental Protection

4 Responses to "Climate Change: Will Focus on Cities Leave Small Towns Behind?"

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  3. Dave   February 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Quite a few overstatements in this piece.

    “Corvallis residents voted against the development”

    This is not true. Corvallis residents approved the annexation of this land way back in 2004. No actual vote on the development was taken, since zoning and development issues are governed by zoning laws, the land development code, and the planning commission.

    “The biodiversity of the oak savannah will also be decimated”

    73% of the parcel (70 of 95 acres) will be left as open space.

    “The area where the developments would take place is not on or bordering OSU’s campus.”

    Not true. The parcel is across the street from OSU’s agricultural land (therefore bordering OSU’s campus), and only 1 to 1.5 miles from the heart of campus.

    “Student populations are also projected to begin decreasing in the near future.”

    Perhaps this is true in general, but the OSU Corvallis student population is yet to peak, and once it does, it will likely stay there for some time.

  4. Brian   February 10, 2014 at 9:24 am

    This article seems like an excuse to bash the housing development by making a weak inference that it will exacerbate climate change. The land is already zoned residential. Please explain to me how a bunch of single family residences would have less of an impact on the environment than medium density housing would.


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