When we think ‘green’, maybe we have certain associations that float around our minds. Maybe we think of a solitary hemp-clothed peacenik living on a grassy rolling plain, at one with nature, and uncluttered by the accouterments of the city. And maybe Edvard Greig’s ‘Peer Gynt’ is playing somewhere in the background, too.
Yet, according to recent research it seems that, when it comes to the greenest place in America, we should change our vision from a bucolic rural scene of a solitary man with Greig floating all around him, and change it to the bustling metropolis of New York City, with its teeming masses, apartment buildings, and maybe put on a little Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, or the New York Dolls.
David Owen, staff writer for the New Yorker, writes this article about New York City as a green capital of America . The argument is pretty compelling, and some of the many reasons Owen cites are extremely interesting, yet not really all that surprising. In New York City, it is the size of the place measured against the number of people in that space which really drives a tendency toward greener living, and more green building too. For instance:
- car ownership is lower than in other places – emissions and gas consumption is also lower
- public transit use is the norm, not the exception
- walking to local amenities is easy practically everywhere in the city
- apartment living is more energy efficient- New Yorkers consume less electricity than any other place in the country
One of the most interesting things about this is the cultural expectation question. As Owen points out, most people think of cities as the’ great dispoilers’ of the environment. The image of the densely populated city is often just the image used to portray the antithesis of green. Yet, Owen is suggesting that in terms of consumption, use of building resources, and use of energy as well, the exact opposite is true.
Once again, I really think that perceptions play a huge role when it comes to the shifting paradigms needed to make green living, and green building. Yet, when communities are made with a public transit system close by, and with plenty of locations to walk to instead of having to drive, and when populations are forced to make more with less in terms of space, changing of habits fall into place without much of a change of mind.
It makes me wonder how this information will have an impact on city planning, and in the curtailing of suburban sprawl, which practically makes a multi-car household a necessity. It kind of amuses me that with an anti-urban sentiment in the rhetoric of a lot of people when it comes to environmental degradation has been shown to be extremely questionable at best.
Perhaps cities serve the environment best by keeping more people self-contained and provided for while also keeping them out of the natural world, too. It’s an interesting idea.