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Wisdom from Green Metropolis

On Tuesday I wrote about Green Metropolis. But while I gave you my overall impressions about the book, I didn’t go into much detail—and there’s lots of detail! I haven’t thought much about urban planning before, so David Owen’s ideas are kind of revolutionary to me. Maybe they are to you, too?

We’ll Switch to a Dirtier Fuel Source Long Before We Run Out of Oil

“Oil comes out of a hole in the ground, and we set it on fire. It’s a clever but outdated invention of ours…that we will replace with something cleverer as soon as the market determines that doing so is worth our while. The near certainty is that, for many years to come, what the market will replace oil with is not something better (like nuclear fusion, which, at the very least, is decades or generations away) but something worse (such as low-grade coal, China’s main fuel, which makes oil’s carbon footprint and pollution profile look demure).” p. 66

As Fuel Becomes More Expensive, We’ll All Have to Do More Work

“Coal bested firewood as an inexpensive multiplier of economic productivity, and oil and natural gas bested coal. The fossil fuels have enabled us to massively leverage the strength of our bodies, allowing a single farmer to produce the harvest of many, and to produce it on less land, and to ship it farther away, freeing a steadily growing percentage of us to do something other than growing or finding food, and to think of our lives in terms of something other than simple survival.” p. 76

Fuel Efficiency Isn’t the Solution

“Getting more miles to the gallon is of no benefit to the environment if it is accompanied by an offsetting increase in driving—and the standard reaction of American drivers to decreases in the cost of driving, historically, has been to drive more.” p. 96

“The energy inefficiency of individual automobiles…is a far less important environmental issue than the energy inefficiency of the asphalt-latticed way of life that we have built to oblige them….A car’s fuel gauge is far less significant, environmentally speaking, than its odometer.” p. 104

Zoning Is the Problem

“Zoning tends to fully separate residential and commercial uses, to move buildings farther apart and farther from streets and sidewalks, to force low-density developments by limiting building height and lot coverage, and to require the creation of oversized parking facilities, which move buildings still farther apart, usually making them inaccessible to anyone who isn’t driving.” p. 112

Large Parks Can Be Bad for the Environment

“Environmentalists and urban planners sometimes say that, in order to get people out of their cars and onto their feet, developed areas need to incorporate extended “greenways” and other attractive, vegetated pedestrian corridors. It’s true that such features, along with parks and natural areas, can encourage some people to take walks. But if the goal is to get people to embrace walking as a form of practical transportation, oversized greenways can actually counterproductive. Walking-as-transportation requires closely spaced, accessible destinations, not broad expanses of leafy scenery.” p. 181

Traffic Jams Can Be Good for the Environment

“Most so-called environmental initiatives concerning automobiles are actually counterproductive because this effort is to make driving less expensive and more agreeable. What we really need is to make driving costlier and less pleasant.” p. 48

“Building a gorgeous transit system is not enough to make people use it in large numbers; you also have to make the alternatives bleak, by increasing costs, impeding car traffic, and eliminating lanes and parking spaces.” p. 133

Lawns Suck

“The nation’s largest irrigated crop is cultivated grass, which covers more than 32 million acres in the continental United States. (The second largest irrigated crop, at roughly 10 million acres, is corn.) Homeowners spend more than $40 billion a year on their lawns, and they use approximately a hundred million pounds of pesticides, which they apply more heavily than farmers do. A third of all residential water use, furthermore, goes into yards.” p. 191

Solar Panels and Windmills Are Not the Best Ways to Make Your House More Efficient

“The solar peak generally occurs around midday, often several hours before the electric-demand peak, and the extra electrons often have nowhere useful to go.” p. 244

“The days of the year when the extra power generated by turbines would be the most useful to the grid tend to be hot summer days when, almost by definition, power-generating breezes are not blowing.” p. 244

Neither Are High-Tech Windows

“An efficient window has an R-value of 4 or 5. The typical modern house wall, 22.” P. 252

“In a house that doesn’t have air-conditioning, low-e windows can actually increase energy use, by reducing the sun’s effectiveness during the winter at passively heating rooms with southern exposure.” p. 254

Build Smaller and Insulate Well

“The best strategy for making a new single-family house greener is to build it on a small lot in an already dense neighborhood (which increases embodied efficiency), to build it smaller (which consumes fewer resources during construction, requires less energy forever, and discourages the accumulation of unnecessary possessions), to caulk and insulate it more thoroughly, especially under the roof (which helps to keep heat on the correct side of the building envelope in all seasons), and to go easy on the air-conditioning and the inefficient appliances.” p. 236

I really recommend reading the book, but if you don’t get a chance, at least check out the first chapter. It reads like a New Yorker essay, because it is one.

One year ago: A Fly Infestation.


Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time November 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

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

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