Thursday, March 12, 2009

The environmental impact of cities

I've mentioned the positive environmental benefits of cities before, but not as well as Edward Glaeser over at the NYT Economix blog. Discussing a paper he wrote with Matthew Kahn, Glaeser notes that "density is the defining characteristic of cities. All that closeness means that people need to travel shorter distances, and that shows up clearly in the data".
But cars represent only one-third of the gap in carbon emissions between New Yorkers and their suburbanites. The gap in electricity usage between New York City and its suburbs is also about two tons. The gap in emissions from home heating is almost three tons. All told, we estimate a seven-ton difference in carbon emissions between the residents of Manhattan’s urban aeries and the good burghers of Westchester County. Living surrounded by concrete is actually pretty green. Living surrounded by trees is not.
And as a warning to those looking to move to the woods to be close to naute, "Thoreau, in a sloppy chowder-cooking moment, burned down 300 acres of prime Concord woodland". So, living too close to the land may actually be pretty bad for the Earth.

Glaeser argues all of this in the NYT by debating the disasterous straw man city in Dr. Seuss' book The Lorax. Ezra Klein at The American Prospect, though, correctly worries that Glaeser has attacked the wrong straw man: Dr. Suess is no enemy of cities, only the badly designed ones.

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