Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability

Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability

by David Owen

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Overview

Look out for David Owen's next book, Where the Water Goes.

A challenging, controversial, and highly readable look at our lives, our world, and our future.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan—the most densely populated place in North America—rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.

These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101140314
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/17/2009
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 460 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author more than a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman.

Table of Contents

1 More Like Manhattan 1

2 Liquid Civilization 49

3 There and Back 101

4 The Great Outdoors 163

5 Embodied Efficiency 203

6 The Shape of Things to Come 265

Notes 325

Index 347

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Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Owen makes a very compelling case for cities as the most environmentally friendly places to live and work due to the efficiencies of living closer, sharing resources, and reducing travel with New York City as the key example. I'm already sold on the idea but he piles on the evidence for his theory in a way that I hope convinces other people who have the ingrained idea of cities as dirty places. He also takes on the pastoral vision of many environmental movements and "LEED brain" where new construction is rewarded for fancy add-ons that are not good for the environment especially when compared to simple renovations of existing buildings. I'm less sold on his opposition to things like the locavore movement which is as much built on nutrition and local sustainability as environmentalism. He's also opposed to vertical agriculture because he thinks it would interfere with the connectivity of cities, but I think they'd fit in perfectly replacing underused light industrial and warehouse districts that already exist in cities like New York. I'm also not sold on his cop-out argument for continuing to live in a drafty farmhouse in suburban Connecticut where he believes if he moved to New York someone less environmentally aware would occupy his current house. Nits picked, I still think this book is a great argument for an idea whose time has come.Favorite Passages:"Jefferson¿embodied the ethos of suburbia. Indeed, he could be considered the prototype of the modern American suburbanite, since for most of his life he lived far outside the central city in a house that was much too big, and he was deeply enamored of high-tech gadgetry and of buying on impulse and on credit, and he embraced a self-perpetuating cycle of conspicuous consumption and recreational self-improvement. The standard object of the modern American dream, the single-family home surrounded by grass, is a mini-Monticello" (p. 25)Making automobiles more fuel-efficient isn¿t necessarily a bad idea, but it won¿t solve the world¿s energy and environmental dilemmas. The real problem with cars is not that they don¿t get enough miles to the gallon; it¿s that they make it too easy for people to spread out, encouraging forms of development that are inherently wasteful and damaging. Most so-called environmental initiatives concerning automobiles are actually counterproductive, because their effect is to make driving less expensive (by reducing the need for fuel) and to make car travel more agreeable (by eliminating congestion). In terms of both energy conservation and environmental protection, we need to make driving costlier and less pleasant. This is true for cars powered by recycled cooking oil and those powered by gasoline. In terms of the automobile¿s true environmental impact, fuel gauges are less important than odometers. In the long run, miles matter more than miles per gallon.The near certainty is that, for many years to come, what the market will replace oil with is not something better (such as nuclear fusion, which, at the very least, is decades or generations away) but something considerably worse (such as low-grade coal, China¿s main fuel, which makes oil¿s carbon footprint and pollution profile look demure), and that ordinary market forces, rather than leading us inexorably toward a golden future, will most likely entice us to compound our growing troubles by prompting us to invest heavily in the energy equivalents of patent medicines (such as shale oil and ethanol). Sometimes, the invisible hand goes for the throat.
thecaptivereader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Found this to be a quick and not particularly enlightening read. Owen's thesis, essentially, is the obvious: living in a smaller space, close to amenities and your workplace, reduces your carbon footprint. My greatest quibble with this book is that it is very, very American. There are no specific international examples used, aside from vague mentions of Europe¿s superiority. Using one example, in this case NYC, to illustrate your argument is never terribly effective and I would have respected Owen much more if he had drawn on further examples. I was also disappointed by the lack of productive suggestions expressed in the conclusion.
bkinetic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is well researched and written and focused on key issues central to building a sustainable culture. The neglected issue of population density is most prominent, but the author also covers many other related issues and debunks many widely held myths about sustainability, such as the high relative priority we currently give to recycling, mass transit and various high-tech schemes for salvation. Owen maintains that Manhattan's population density is in part an accident due to a favorable geography. Some more discussion of how to retrofit existing urban centers to emulate Manhattan, by design, would have also been useful.
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