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Book Review: Green Metropolis

Green Metropolis

There’s just too much here for one post. Check out part two of my review.

Green Metropolis by David Owen gets the biggest compliment I can give a book: I wish I had written it myself. It’s a wonderfully clear explanation of why high-density, mixed-use cities like New York and Boston are more environmentally friendly than suburban or even rural communities.

It seems counterintuitive at first—and you get the sense that the author enjoys being contrarian—but the analysis is compelling. And while I would like more information on how some of the statistics he quotes were gathered, they’re staggering. New Yorkers are collectively responsible for 1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but they represent 2.7% of the population. This is worth repeating: 2.7% of the population is responsible for just 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions because they live in the city.

How do they manage this?

  • By living in such close proximity to everything they need that they walk, bike, and use public transportation, rather than drive
  • By living in smaller spaces that are easier to heat and cool

Although environmentalism isn’t generally associated with cities, Owen points out that the best way to preserve open spaces is for people to move closer together, not farther apart: “Wild landscapes are less often destroyed by people who despise wild landscapes than by people who love them…by people who move to be near them, and then, when others follow, move again.”

If the residents of New York were to all live at the density of the author’s hometown (around 4,000 residents in 38.7 square miles), “they would require a space equivalent to the land area of the six New England states plus Delaware and New Jersey.” Considering that, us Boston residents are actually doing my Maine relatives a favor by not crowding them out of their towns!

Of course, as Owen points out, the three cities with the highest transit use, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, didn’t get that way because of good urban planning, but because they’re on an island and peninsulas, thus inhibiting outward growth. The real question is how to preserve that unintentional result and duplicate it in places that already have a very different plan.

One year ago: Should I Filter My Water?


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Time August 26, 2010 at 8:02 pm

[…] Tuesday I wrote about Green Metropolis. But while I gave you my overall impressions about the book, I […]

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