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Urban Efficiency

In our search to be closer to nature, we may actually be killing it.

When we think of green living, we may think of solar paneled houses with compost bins nestled in vast, pastoral landscapes where one lives isolated from their neighbors, but this image is flawed. While such areas may allow you to live closer to nature, their distance from urban necessities – along with the creation of expressways to accommodate such distance – makes rural areas more damaging to the environment.

On the contrary, urban areas that provoke images of pollution, crime, and over-population are actually more environmentally friendly. This is no accident, many factors that define a city contribute to sustainability.

Probably the two most important factors to take in consideration when comparing urban areas with rural areas are population density and layout.

A common fault when surmising the energy use of cities is to identify a city’s consumption as the consumption of a single entity, measuring it alongside other areas by proportion rather than population. We need to identify an area’s efficiency based on the use of its inhabitants. Individually, residents of Manhattan use only a third of the energy that Texans use and leave a much smaller carbon footprint than Vermonters, who consume four times as much energy and generate a greater amount of solid waste. In regards to gas use, New York state, thanks exclusively to New York City, has the lowest rank of gas consumption of any state in the United States.

Though cities are filled with both public and private transport, the traffic that congests most cities is not the creation of its many residents but those who live outside the city and rely on vehicles to commute for work and other purposes. This is often the case with public parking lots and garages, which are created when people flee cities.

To further show the importance of keeping population in the equation, statistics show New York City accounts for 1 percent of greenhouse gases in United States. This seems like a large number until you consider that NYC also accounts for 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, showing this amount is significantly low.

This isn’t to say we should be separate from nature, far from it. However, there are alternate ways to go about it that won’t destroy our land.

We could live sustainably in towns surrounded with forests and wildlife, so long as the town is accessible without the need for cars, allowing its residents access to all necessities on foot. Another change that must be made to inhibit the destruction of our environment is to stop the creation of suburban sprawl, which resulted from the flight of residents from cities to be closer to the countryside.

Neighborhoods that retain a separation from the main bustle of a town or city is fine, but they should be built for people, not cars. Unfortunately, the typical suburban layout requires you to drive a half miles worth to a destination that’s no more than a ball toss away. So it isn’t surprising that these areas are highly inefficient. They also keep residents in a bubble, away from the community, which tends to suck the life out of a city.

Remember, it takes people coming together – not spreading apart – to preserve open spaces.

If the sprawl continues not only does it damage the environment, it weakens the bonds between people. Leaving us with more strangers than neighbors.

Green Metropolis, David Owen, Copyright 2009

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