Lead Story… There is little that I enjoy more than reading (or writing) about the hypocrisy of self-important celebrities. However, one of my primary rules for writing this blog is to avoid politics – unless it’s land use politics (or water politics). As such, I haven’t had the opportunity to write much about celebrity hypocrisy, despite frequent gnawing temptation to do so. Today’s blog will be different.
At this point in his career, Leonardo DiCaprio is almost as well known for his environmental activism as he is for his acting, or, for that matter the number of supermodels that he’s slept with. This is despite the fact that his anti-fossil fuel stance is frequently juxtaposed against his high-rolling lifestyle of flying around the world on carbon-spewing private jets and spending his vacations on yachts rented or borrowed from oil sheikhs, all of which is evidenced by his massive carbon footprint. However, the above examples may not even be his most egregious examples of hypocrisy since they only deal with his individual actions and lifestyle. His views on land use politics are far more disturbing and far more destructive from an environmental prospective.
So, now we come to the land use part of this story. It’s not a controversial notion that the best thing that a city can do to cut down on pollution is build more density in it’s core as higher density in urban centers leads to less automobile use, which leads to less carbon emissions. If residents are located closer together, there is less need to transport people and goods over further distances. Therefore energy use is reduced, as well as water usage for that matter since higher density typically means less large lawns to water. This is roughly as objectionable as someone making an argument that water is wet or that orange juice tastes like oranges. So, imagine my surprise (end sarcasm here) when I recently read a story on Curbed LA about how self-styled environmental crusader Leonard DiCaprio (among other celebrity “activists”) had signed onto an anti-development campaign known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative demanding the following: From Curbed LA (emphasis mine):
(1) Direct officials to halt amendment of the City’s General Plan in small bits and pieces for individual real estate developer projects, and
(2) Require the City Planning Commission to systematically review and update the City’s community plans and make all zoning code provisions and projects consistent with the City’s General Plan, and
(3) Place City employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major development projects, and
(4) For a limited time, impose a construction moratorium for projects approved by the City that increased some types of density until officials can complete review and update of community plans or 24 months, whichever occurs first.
This list of demands was presented to Mayor Eric Garcetti. The group claims that they have enough signatures to get their measure on the ballot should Garcetti not submit to their demands. This is NIMBYism, plain and simple. There is just no other way to describe it From Curbed LA (emphasis mine):
So, quite literally, the single best thing that a city can do for the planet is locate destinations—houses, jobs, grocery stores, schools—closer together so its residents expend less time, less money, and fewer fossil fuels traveling among them.
That’s how LA needs to think about density—as a long-term solution for climate change that will also deliver short-term social and economic benefits.
The problem with anti-density campaigns is that their boosters aren’t thinking about our city in a way that looks beyond what they see on their own block today.
Santa Monica’s anti-density measure, LV, is the most troubling, as it would require a citywide vote to approve any new structure over 32 feet. This would make it politically (and economically) difficult to erect buildings more than two stories tall in a prohibitively expensive city that already has limited room to grow, pushing workers farther and farther away from their jobs.
Again, as stated previously, the fact that increasing density in urban cores is good for the environment is not particularly controversial, nor is it an issue opposed by those on either the right or the left….until it happens near when they live. In this case, it’s a matter of wealthy hypocrites who claim to be environmentalists trying to stop development because it happens to inconvenience their lifestyle a bit, despite the fact that the development would have a substantial positive impact on the environment that they claim to care so much about. Again, from Curbed LA (emphasis mine):
Restricting building height and planning for cars goes against everything that environmental leaders and sustainability experts have been saying for decades: If you’re erecting a multi-use structure in a dense, transit-accessible neighborhood with centralized freight delivery systems, the environmental impact of that structure is lessened significantly over time.
Building a two-story building surrounded by a city-mandated parking lot on an extra wide street is not the worst thing you could do for the planet. The worst thing you could do for the planet is codify this kind of development into the land use and planning policies of your city to make building anything else impossible.
That’s why many cities and states are incentivizing dense, transit-accessible development as part of a larger climate-friendly mandate to not only decrease emissions, but also improve public health, clean the air, and slash energy costs.
My broader point here is that you can’t have it both ways. This isn’t an issue where there is a credible case that increasing density in urban cores isn’t better for the environment than doing the opposite: incentivizing sprawl by making it impossible to build in urban areas. You can’t be an environmental advocate only when it suits your personal interests and expect not to get called out on your hypocrisy, especially when you stake out as hard-line of a position as DiCaprio has.
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