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October 17, 2004

NYC: Ecological Anti-Disaster

Posted in: NYC

green-apple.jpgNew York City is a pretty awful ecological mess, right? I mean, how could the overcrowded, smog-ridden, skyscraper encroached, light polluted, grimy subway entangled behemoth be anything but? Well, as David Owen’s article in this week’s New Yorker (October 18 issue) takes pains to explain, looks can be deceiving. Take the following snip for example:

Because densely populate urban centers concentrate human activity, we think of them as pollution crisis zones. Calculated by square foot, New York City generates more greenhouse gasses, uses more energy, and produces more solid waste than most other American regions of comparable size. On a map depicting negative environmental impacts in relation to surface area, therefore, Manhattan would look like an intense hot spot, surrounded, at varying distances, by belts of deepening green. If you plotted the same negative impacts by resident or by household, however, the color scheme would be reversed.

Why? Largely because densities of people have nice properties like reducing energy consumption in transportation (public transit becomes viable) and at home (lower apartments heat higher ones). Green Apple indeed. Owen says it much more eloquently, though, as he makes the counter-intuitive yet compelling argument (with support from the likes of The Sierra Club) that suburbs are the real ecological disaster.

The article isn’t online, but WNYC’s Brian Lehrer recently interviewed Owen on the topic (realaudio link). For more on the evils of sprawl, see Suburban Nation and Jane Jacobs’ classic.

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