Green, Urban Living

9 Sep

solar-panels-wideExcellent, excellent, excellent article in this month’s The Atlantic (online version) about how urban living and the density it entails is key to sustainable living.  Here’s an excerpt that sums it up:

“Rather than trying to change behavior to actually reduce carbon emissions, politicians and entrepreneurs have sold greening to the public as a kind of accessorizing. Keep doing what you’re doing, goes the message. Just add a solar panel, a wind turbine, a hybrid engine, whatever. But a solar-heated house in the burbs is still a house in the burbs, and if you have to drive to it, even in a Prius, it’s hardly green.”

The author, Witold Rybczynski, goes on to argue, very convincingly, that cities are some of the greenest, most environmentally places to live.  Yes, a big city like New York may be smelly and loud and seemingly the exact opposite of the bucolic landscapes and clear blue skies often associated with sustainability.  But apartment buildings are, on average, more energy efficient than single family homes.  And being able to walk or bike or take mass transit to work or to the store or wherever–as is often possible in large cities–is obviously better for the environment than commuting everywhere by car, as is normally the case in the suburbs and exerbs (and, of course, in sprawling cities like LA, Phoenix, Houston and many post WWII cities).

I’d add that alongside more compact cities such as NYC, Chicago, Boston and others, small towns, too, can embody the sort of density (relatively speaking) and opportunities for sustainable living available in large metropolises.

For example, I live in Bloomington, Indiana, a small Midwestern college town in the south-central region of the state.  Bloomington isn’t exactly a world class model of urban density; far too many new developments follow the post-WWII surburban sprawl blueprint, featuring 5000+ sq. foot houses, vast tracts of front and backyard lawns and various other accoutrements of the streotypical non-sustainable, energy inefficient lifestyle.

But … Bloomington also has dozens of older neighborhoods built before WWII, where the lawns are small, the houses are close together (mine shares a driveway with our neighbor), trees lining the streets are robust and mature.  My neighborhood, called Elm Heights, is close to everything–campus, downtown, even banks and supermarkets.  I ride my bike everyday, in all sorts of weather, pretty much everywhere.  My kids’ school is close enough so that in a few years they’ll bike or walk themselves.  My wife rides a bike to work more often than not.

My point, I think, is that sustainable living isn’t only possible in large cities.  Small and medium-sized towns offer great possibilities as well.


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