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We should all live in Manhattan
April 6, 2008 2:56 PM   Subscribe

New York City is the greenest city in America. Eighty-two per cent of Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot. That's ten times the rate for Americans in general, and eight times the rate for residents of Los Angeles County. New York City is more populous than all but eleven states; if it were granted statehood, it would rank 51st in per-capita energy use.... But this is not necessarily something people want to hear: In a conversation with a Sierra Club representative involved in Challenge to Sprawl, I said that the organization's anti-sprawl suggestions and the modified streetscapes in the slide show shared many significant features with Manhattan-whose most salient characteristics include wide sidewalks, narrow streets, mixed uses, densely packed buildings, and an extensive network of subways and buses. The representative hesitated, then said that I was essentially correct, although he would prefer that the program not be described in such terms, since emulating New York City would not be considered an appealing goal by most of the people whom the Sierra Club is trying to persuade
posted by storybored (61 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
A four-year-old op-ed piece from the New Yorker is what you wanted to share with Metafilter today?

Interesting.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2008


It's not an op-ed piece, but a reported feature article. And most of its points are still very valid today (though a few more recent links would be nice for a 2008 FPP).

City living is definitely eco-friendly compared with the driving-to-your-single-family-house lifestyle of most Americans (a lifestyle i now have, though we live in a very walkable urban Portland neighborhood and don't use our car every day). I'm sure I consumed less energy when I lived in Manhattan.

One area, though, where Manhattan seemed to lag behind was recycling -- many apartment buildings don't have effective recycling-storage areas at all. Hopefully that'll improve in the next few years (along with the new trend of rejecting bottled water for tap).
posted by lisa g at 3:16 PM on April 6, 2008


emulating New York City would not be considered an appealing goal

Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing? I'm guessing not the millions willing to pay an outrageous premium to live there.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2008


We should all live in Manhattan

I'm down with that idea. Someone planning on picking up the tab?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Um yeah. I mean, it's funny that in all the talk about green living and sustainability that environmental groups (those concerned strictly with nature issues such as wildlife and habitat conservation) are no where on the map. If the Sierra Club wanted to be more meaningful instantly then they would throttle back on their environmental messages and embrace sustainable living. I mean, what do they want? To depave Manhattan and return to living in mud brick hovels?

In the meantime private industry is getting on good foot and making "green" marketable and appealing to consumers in a way that environmental groups just don't get.

Their myopic view of the issues surrounding the larger environment (an environment, for better or for worse, dominated by humans) continues to flabbergast and disappoint.
posted by wfrgms at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, whenever you discuss density with skeptics, they will always, always raise the objection, "But I don't want to live in someplace like Manhattan!" and you have to spend the next half-hour explaining that designing places with walkable neighborhoods and accessible amenities can be done within the context of a suburban lifestyle, rather than manhattan-like living.

So I can understand the Sierra Club's reasoning here. However, next time someone tells you how virtuous he is and how corrupt the New Yorkers are, feel free to bash them over the head with the fact that they are some of the most environmentally-conscious people on the planet. Just to spite them.
posted by deanc at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2008


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?
People who want things like back yards, and 3-car garages, and who don't find high-density apartment living appealing.
posted by !Jim at 3:39 PM on April 6, 2008


Hmm. Of course, even if this lifestyle is more efficient and eco-friendly, it wouldn't really matter - there's no way we could afford to implement it elsewhere.

I also wonder if it really is more eco-friendly when you consider the costs of building all of that stuff - there's a reason you don't see skyscrapers in small towns, and that's because those things are ridiculously expensive to build. The energy required to build Manhattan might be so great that the energy saved by living in it is trivial by comparison - essentially causing their apparent efficiency to be caused by displacing energy use.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


In an era of permanently high gas prices, there will be even more pressure on individuals to abandon suburban (let alone exurban) living. My sister and her family are so pleased with and proud of their life on a lovely ten acre spread at the distant edge of a small Northeastern city, and nothing except escalating gas prices is likely to get them to realize the impact (environmental and otherwise) of driving hundreds of miles a week in two SUVs.
posted by twsf at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2008


See also Vancouver's "EcoDensity Planning Initiative."
posted by blacklite at 3:49 PM on April 6, 2008


I also wonder if it really is more eco-friendly when you consider the costs of building all of that stuff - there's a reason you don't see skyscrapers in small towns, and that's because those things are ridiculously expensive to build. The energy required to build Manhattan might be so great that the energy saved by living in it is trivial by comparison - essentially causing their apparent efficiency to be caused by displacing energy use.

This vanishes when you compare construction costs per person rather than in aggregate.
posted by grobstein at 3:49 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Speaking of sustainability in the urban environment:
http://www.ecocityfarm.com/

This is a hydroponic farming system that the inventors claim is suitable for urban use. They'll use "waste streams," i.e. sewage and waste heat as feedstock for fresh organic vegetables. Pretty cool, because 1) it uses stuff that otherwise gets dumped out to sea or in rivers and 2) reduces the amount of petroleum used to transport food. Stuff like this also makes cities more survivable in times of catastrophe.

Actually, city-states are in some ways the original survivalists. When I was growing up I went through a brief survivalist phase, probably incited by reading too many Larry Niven novels. But in thinking about it historically, if all hell breaks loose, remote survivalist colonie (of just a few people) are probably the most threatened. For one thing, if all hell has broken loose, how will isolated pockets of humanity defend themselves from marauding bandits? It just doesn't make sense. Think about it -- those kind of ''ranch" environments (sparsely populated, lots of resources) are appealing targets.Thus, rural based 'survivalism' only works if the ''survivalists'' are themselves mobile hunter gatherers.

On the other hand, look at the city state. It's compact and easily defensible. The large number of people provide a good sized militia. As long as they have water and food stored away, they can last out a siege. And, banditry is a mobile enterprise, not siege warfare.

There's a strong historical example here too: the Hakka in Southern China
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakka_architecture

I'm far from knowledgeable about European history during the middle ages, but it would seem that the fortified Italian city state was also a response to the chaos of the fall of Rome.

In modern times, a city would be much more resilient if it had built in farms utilizing the existing waste streams. Neat stuff.
posted by wuwei at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Decent mass transit is only possible with sufficient population density. There's a middle ground between "Manhattanization" and a mass transit desert. In fact medium, uniform density is even better than pockets of skyscrapers. In Paris you're never more then 500 yards (sorry, "metres") from a Metro stop in the central arrondisements, in part because the buildings in the central city are a nearly uniform 5-7 stories in height.
posted by twsf at 3:58 PM on April 6, 2008


The article attempts to paint a picture of New York as "manhattan" and the vast majority of The city actually lives in Brooklyn and Queens. Two Boroughs which offer enough of a variety of residential environments to make the whole argument moot. If NY was just Manhattan, it wouldn't work. If North Jersey wasn't there picking up the slack, it wouldn't work.

I also think it's hard to legislate necessity. NYC works the way it does because it has to. When it doesn't, shit gets bad real quick. The NYC I remember visiting 20-25 years ago was an ongoing crime wave that only took breaks for garbage strikes and blackouts. And I moved here anyway...
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?

Peace and quiet, a nice big vegetable garden, wildlife, roads kids can bike on, fruit trees
posted by bystander at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2008


You don't understand: no one wants to live in Manhattan! It's too crowded!

In all seriousness, what you want to do is show that traditional, commuter towns built along the train lines are ones that are most environmentally friendly. You could point out that the "advantages" you get in lifestyle and price by living in someplace like Maricopa go down the drain once you count your environmental and commuting costs, compared to someplace like Roslindale, MA.
posted by deanc at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2008


People who want things like back yards, and 3-car garages

in other words, people who give not a shit about reducing anything.
posted by Hat Maui at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


"New York City is the greenest city in America."

Made possible, of course, by the daily parade of 20,000 diesel spewing heavy trucks out I-80, I-81, and I-95 which, literally, feed it. Not to mention the ships, trains, and planes that daily move thousands of tons of stuff into NYC, much of which is then flushed down toilets, or hauled out to sea in garbage scows, or buried in Jersey landfills, daily. The ecological footprint of NYC is massive, extending hundreds of miles in all directions. You can see it in satellite photos, and you can even smell it in the change of air inside commercial flights descending into the city, from flights altitudes, over Connecticut.

There is an enormous environmental price to be paid for that kind of artificial population density, and it is not all contained in the 5 boroughs, as the article's author repeatedly fails to illustrate. To hold NYC up as some kind of ecological model strains credulity.
posted by paulsc at 4:03 PM on April 6, 2008 [11 favorites]


It begs the question of what green is. New York city is anything but green, one look at any aerial photo or sat. shot will show you that. It's streams and forests are ruined, there is little diversity of plant or animal life in it's few semi-wild places.

It's not exactly a mystery why those who live in New York city are more "green" than most by the measure of transit and energy use. It's because traffic and parking are terrible, and enough people are jammed in one small place that mass transit is effective. Apartments are fairly energy efficient because you get a lot of people per square foot with somewhat shared energy use in heating/cooling. New York is also near the coast, and in the Mid-Atlantic, which means a long spring and fall when little heating or cooling is required.

So I will take my one acre in the suburbs with big trees, a huge garden, wood heat and chickens in the backyard.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:06 PM on April 6, 2008


grobstein: This vanishes when you compare construction costs per person rather than in aggregate.

I have my doubts. It it was cheaper (even per person) to house people in large steel-and-concrete buildings, why don't people do it anywhere but in places where ridiculous land prices force them to? It would certainly make more sense to a developer to make one fifteen-story apartment building instead of five three-story ones if they were the same price. However, every city I've ever lived in has had far more small apartment buildings than large ones.

Not to mention that what large cities are built from (steel, asphalt, and concrete) are much more expensive energetically than what houses and small apartment buildings are built from (wood and wallboard.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:09 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


See also Vancouver's "EcoDensity Planning Initiative."

Yeah, whatever. It's all smoke and mirrors, worthy of Vancouver's answer to the Wizard of Oz, Sam Sullivan. What a bullshitter.

Despite its beauty and seeming sustainability, Vancouver is a cold and soul-less city that is devoid of culture or a sense of responsibilty. The city is an anti-intellectual monument to Philistinism. I'd rather look toward New York or Portland for sustainable solutions.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?

Everyone? The city is densely populated, loud, often crowded, dirty, sometimes smelly, frustrating, and unpredictable. I live here because I like it here in spite of all that stuff. As a New Yorker, I perfectly understand why no one would want to live like this.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:21 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah, whatever. It's all smoke and mirrors, worthy of Vancouver's answer to the Wizard of Oz

Most of that article is just about people in a neighborhood who didn't like the fact that a nearby area got rezoned to allow attached rowhouses, which they don't want. Why is this an indictment of "EcoDensity"?

So I will take my one acre in the suburbs with big trees, a huge garden, wood heat and chickens in the backyard.

Perhaps so, but I just hung out with one of my close friends from college yesterday who lives walking distance from me. A few weeks ago, I walked home after a late night party with some of my other friends. When my kitchen was short a few ingredients, I walked up the street to the supermarket to pick up some more supplies. Then I went jogging where more than 2 miles out of the 4.5 mile run was in a park along a stream. And I don't even live in NYC!

How about you?

Is the price I pay for the amount of space I get worth it? Well, no, not really, but that's because there are few neighborhoods that offer the sort of lifestyle I want in the metro area I'm in. If you increase the number of neighborhoods in which that lifestyle is the norm, then the average price of that lifestyle will go down.
posted by deanc at 4:25 PM on April 6, 2008


Made possible, of course, by the daily parade of 20,000 diesel spewing heavy trucks out I-80, I-81, and I-95 which, literally, feed it...

... which is orders of magnitude more environmentally sound than 4,000,000 cars and light trucks driving even just half a mile each way to the market. Look, I realize it's not intuitively obvious, but a single 18-wheeler is capable of hauling enough to feed several hundred people for a full week. New York's density also makes room for a lot of farmland upstate, which means that the trucks often don't have far to go.

Those same diesel-spewing trucks go to suburban and exurban and yes, even rural markets as well. They're often traveling far further, and they're not always full. New York also has a supporting rail system and a port, both of which are very efficient ways to get goods in and out of the city.
posted by phooky at 4:26 PM on April 6, 2008 [11 favorites]


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?

Yeah, what the TPS said. People who want to go 24 hours without smelling the stench of another person's urine are not freaks.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:29 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


feel free to bash them over the head with the fact that they are some of the most environmentally-conscious people on the planet. Just to spite them.

Um, "most environmentally-friendly in the US" is hardly equivalent to on the planet. You guys do waste 1/4th of the planet's energy, for starters.
posted by signal at 5:05 PM on April 6, 2008


Point taken, signal, you're right. My sense of self-righteous indignation reached a crescendo at that point in my comment, and I rhetorically overreached.
posted by deanc at 5:13 PM on April 6, 2008


This article is actually relevant to this week's news--one of the stories featured in places like the NYT and Gothamist concerned the spike in obesity in NYC boroughs except Manhattan, where people tend to walk considerably more. Better health, abundant social connectivity, a small environmental footprint: the arguments for population density seem to be intensifying, in stark contrast to the suburbanizing trends from the 40s through the 80s.
posted by jefftrexler at 5:25 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?

Anyone that doesn't live in New York City? I know that's shocking.
posted by puke & cry at 5:31 PM on April 6, 2008


So I will take my one acre in the suburbs with big trees, a huge garden, wood heat and chickens in the backyard.

And if everyone on the planet has that attitude ...
posted by Megami at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2008


living in Brooklyn is great:

It is *really* awesome to be able to walk to anything. I went to the best bar I've ever been to on Saturday, had maybe a couple too many and I walked a mile home, passing maybe 500 people on my way. One of my best friends in the world lives a 5 minute walk from my apartment.

I ride my bike to work most days, other days take the subway.

I live a quarter mile from a a giant park.

I buy about 1/3 local food from coops and farmer's markets that I can walk to.

I haven't owned a car for more than 10 years and I've never missed it.

When I take my kid to the playground there are most of a *hundred* other kids there for her to play with. She has 10x the friends that I ever had in the burbs.

If I can get through a year without taking a flight I can actually score in the bottom 5% of US energy consumption, which is still too much.
posted by n9 at 6:53 PM on April 6, 2008


You know, I think what gives everyone the screaming horrors about New York is not the population density, but the population magnitude. As it is, I would rather live nearly anywhere else in the country than in your enormous urban hell, but if you shrunk a normal 30k-500k person city down to that same population density I'd be willing to give it a shot.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:35 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


HA ! Suck That LA!
posted by swbarrett at 7:44 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


So I've lived downtown for a long time. I like it a lot. I walk to stores, cafes, restaurants, parks.

But last time I went backpacking I come home with a dirty tent, groundcloth, sleeping bag etc. I'm cleaning this shit in my shower. It totally sucks. It's just not working any more. I want a yard and a hose.
posted by Wood at 8:01 PM on April 6, 2008


New Urbanism, anyone?

Me, I live in a small city (Denver) where you can have a house and a garden and drive for ten minutes to get downtown.

For me, a small town would drive me crazy; Chicago or NY or LA would drive me nuts.

New Urbanism...well, a little dicey and maybe a little suburban in concept, but should be part of this thread.
posted by kozad at 8:09 PM on April 6, 2008


New Urbanism sounds awesome in theory; it's a great premise. Practically speaking, I've yet to see an effective example, at least in the U.S.
posted by lunit at 8:26 PM on April 6, 2008


As it is, I would rather live nearly anywhere else in the country than in your enormous urban hell...

Were I still living away from NYC, that statement would have made me homesick beyond belief.
posted by griphus at 8:29 PM on April 6, 2008


Who exactly would find emulating New York City unappealing?

People who want things like back yards, and 3-car garages,


Briinnng Brrinnnggg Briiiinng Asshole Alert!

Seriously. At some point people are going to point at the conspicuous consumers and they will pay.

You want a back yard (IE: environmental scrubland with a deck and fence) because Lee fucking Greenwood and Coldwell Bank said this [/American Land] worthless plot is YOURS! Hoo-fucking-RAY!

Enjoy that worthless sod, or make it do something useful.
posted by sourwookie at 8:44 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Briinnng Brrinnnggg Briiiinng Asshole Alert!

Well, that's not a very nice way to join the discussion.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:54 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had a girlfriend once whose parents were a lawyer and a professor of rhetoric. We argued a lot and well. Nonetheless, she once stopped me in my tracks by pointing out that cities were far more "green" than the hippies-in-the-hills I then espoused. Still working that through, and living in the city.

Argue a lot less with my wife, though.
posted by freebird at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2008


Most of that article is just about people in a neighborhood who didn't like the fact that a nearby area got rezoned to allow attached rowhouses, which they don't want. Why is this an indictment of "EcoDensity"?

It's just an indictment of Vancouver's Mayor Sam Sullivan, not "Ecodensity", whatever the hell that is.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 PM on April 6, 2008


"which is orders of magnitude more environmentally sound than 4,000,000 cars and light trucks driving even just half a mile each way to the market. ..."

That's 20,000 trucks, everyday, and each of those truck trips is tens or hundreds of miles round trip, whereas a lot of your 4 million comparison suburbanites go to market, individually, only 1 time a week (I go, generally, once a month, myself, but that's not very standard). So, it's more like 140,000 truck loads, each comprising hundreds of vehicle miles, against, maybe, 2 million car trips (adjusted for average marketing frequency, because, you know, you can carry stuff in a car), each comprising, by your estimate, 1 mile (roundtrip), if that, a week, which is hardly "orders of magnitude" difference in vehicular efficiency.

And the city dweller is orders of magnitude less efficient than tomatoes picked from my plants on the patio, or corn that will come out of my garden in about 4 months. It's not only the diesel trucks, it's the energy that goes into producing the food they haul, because the NYC residents they feed, can't generally feed themselves on the sunshine that falls on the 5 boroughs. It's also the resources that go into making the trucks, and keeping them shod in tires, motor oil, and consumables. And, it's to some degree, the resources that go into building and maintaining the roads and other infrastructure that act as Gotham's arteries.

I lived in Pennsylvania for 5 years, and in that entire period, there was not one single day that I got to drive from Harrisburg to Wilkes Barre on I-81, without hitting a "road construction" project, trying to repair sections of I-81 from through truck traffic destined for NYC. It's amazing to watch a federal Interstate highway literally pounded to pieces, constantly, by NYC truck traffic. But, I've seen it.
posted by paulsc at 11:17 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]



That's 20,000 trucks, everyday, and each of those truck trips is tens or hundreds of miles round trip, whereas a lot of your 4 million comparison suburbanites go to market, individually, only 1 time a week (I go, generally, once a month, myself, but that's not very standard). So, it's more like 140,000 truck loads, each comprising hundreds of vehicle miles, against, maybe, 2 million car trips (adjusted for average marketing frequency, because, you know, you can carry stuff in a car), each comprising, by your estimate, 1 mile (roundtrip), if that, a week, which is hardly "orders of magnitude" difference in vehicular efficiency.



Disengenuous.

The order of magnitude in efficiency arises not from the weekly shop that the suburbanites undergo, but the (often singly occupied) car ride to EVERY OTHER PLACE. Commutes in the US average 30mi RT, 5 days a week. In NYC, that's on public transport. Take your 4,000,000 miles for grocery trips and a serious number that corresponds to average employment * average distance * number of cars per household * number of employees per household. I think this adds another zero EASILY.

As for your garden: Tell me that all the suburbanites will grow their own food in a manner that negates the need to have food distributed over the country, over vast distances, with vast spoilage, rather than to the centralized distribution netowkrs serving a major city. Road building? A drop in the ocean.
posted by lalochezia at 11:48 PM on April 6, 2008


"In NYC, that's on public transport."

Heh.

Now who's being disingenuous, my friend? Your NYC dwellers going to shop for clothes, going to enjoy a coffee, going to dinner at a restaurant, going to work in a bookshop, all on your vaunted public transport, do so largely because yet more trucks, boats, airplanes, etc. bring the goods they handle to them. No human need springs a priori from the asphalt streets of the Upper West Side.

When a Manhattan resident buys a couch, he hires a truck to haul it home. The truck driver and his helper likely drive from home, to the truck depot, from the Bronx, Yonkers, or Elizabeth, or Bridgeport, to serve his need, as they can't afford to live in Manhattan. When a NYC resident turns a water tap, he hopes the folk upstate who tend the reservoirs and pumps that supply his water have driven to work that day.

Do you seriously imagine for a moment that a dense urban population could survive more than a few days, cut off from constant mechanized transport? Do you remember what lower Manhattan smelled like, 3 days into the last garbage strike? I do.

That your ears have become innured to the constant roar of engines that keep NYC alive, doesn't mean that mine have.
posted by paulsc at 12:04 AM on April 7, 2008


I'm not claiming that the constant roar of engines isn't required to keep NYC alive.

I'm saying that the same roar of engines, distributed over a larger distance, with greater inneficiancies, are also needed to keep the suburbs alive. Combine this with all the daily travel that the Single Occupancy Car Culture requires.

A manhattanite may buy a couch (or equivalent item), what, once a year with a rented truck. That truck journey corresponds to 2-3 days of commuting for a family of two breadwinners in SUVs vs 10% of that footprint for the commute for the city dweller.

When the suburbanite buys their couch? Same deal as a city dweller.

That the city uses resources inefficiently is obvious. However, the suburbs are demonstrably, significantly, quantitatively worse for Resource Consumption per capita than a city. Period.
posted by lalochezia at 12:21 AM on April 7, 2008


The truck driver and his helper likely drive from home

Or the truck driver and his helper live in the outer boroughs, and walk or take the bus to the warehouse where the truck is. Whereas in the suburbs, they necessarily drive to work, plus you drove to the store. Or, everyone buying a couch drives their pickup truck separately to the store, whereas in NYC that truck is carrying three or five pieces of furniture, to be delivered on one circuit of the city.

When a NYC resident turns a water tap, he hopes the folk upstate who tend the reservoirs and pumps that supply his water have driven to work that day.

Nope: 95% of NYC's water is gravity-fed.
posted by nicwolff at 12:36 AM on April 7, 2008


"... However, the suburbs are demonstrably, significantly, quantitatively worse for Resource Consumption per capita than a city. Period."
posted by lalochezia at 3:21 AM on April 7

Period?

As in, "I'm right and you're wrong, and please don't suggest that NYC isn't The Capital of the World for everything including energy efficiency?"

I will, maybe, when I know that NYC escalators and elevators aren't running on electric motors that are, on average, 60% efficient. 'Cause you know, there are a blue ton of escalators and elevators in NYC, it being popular there to go up and down all the time, willy nilly. I will, maybe, when, on my next trip on a cold January day, I land at LaGuardia, and see that whole taxi queue has resolutely shut off their engines, in the face of $5 a gallon gas, and a deep concern for controlling green house gas emissions. I will, when NYC isn't still buying as much as 15% of its electric power as far afield as HydroQuebec, with all the inherent loss of efficiency in transmission that moving megawatts of energy hundreds and hundreds of miles entails.

Period? Puhlllllllleeeeeze.
posted by paulsc at 12:40 AM on April 7, 2008


"... Or, everyone buying a couch drives their pickup truck separately to the store, whereas in NYC that truck is carrying three or five pieces of furniture, to be delivered on one circuit of the city. ..."
posted by nicwolff at 3:36 AM on April 7

Or, as we actually often do it now, out here in the backwards 'burbs, we order online, and a truck that might have once delivered to a furniture store, or distribution center, instead delivers directly from the factory that made the item. Although, I could take the city bus that runs every 20 minutes, at the end of my street, to a furniture store, 2.3 miles from me, if I felt the need.

But in NYC, no trucker in his right mind is going into Manhattan direct from Hillsboro, N.C. for one lousy couch.
posted by paulsc at 12:47 AM on April 7, 2008


"... 95% of NYC's water is gravity-fed."
posted by nicwolff at 3:36 AM on April 7

Good to know, then, I guess, that of the average 1,068.7 million gallons a day of water consumed by NYC, only 53.435 million gallons a day needs to be pumped tens or hundreds of miles. But you're right; compared to the rest of the ecological footprint of NYC, it's a comparative "drop in the bucket."

But, in sheer magnitude, it does serve to help imagine the "bucket" that is NYC.
posted by paulsc at 1:08 AM on April 7, 2008


And the plane takes off.
posted by blacklite at 4:33 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Please, don't love New York. Stay down on the farm, keep that 4 bedroom McMansion with the lovely and energy inefficient "garden" (petroleum dump, given all the driving you have to do just to plant it and maintain it) and the three car garage (where the SUV is, you know?). Please don't read anything about how good life is here, how many amenities city life offers. It's all lies, damn lies, and statistics. This is a dirty, stinky, crowded city full of criminals with no peace and quiet anywhere, really it is. Also, it's terribly expensive to live here. Heck the $5000 a year you don't spend driving (add it up, pardner) barely covers two or three months of rent here.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said "Welcome to Seattle: Now Go Home." I never understood it before moving to NYC.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:45 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


And the city dweller is orders of magnitude less efficient than tomatoes picked from my plants on the patio, or corn that will come out of my garden in about 4 months.

First, unless you have a big lot, you aren't going to be able to feed yourself all year on what you grow on your own property. Second, assuming you've got a normal job, you waste far more energy going to and from work than I do getting my food from those big diesel trucks (which also deliver your food), even if you factor in the road repair.

Although, I could take the city bus that runs every 20 minutes, at the end of my street, to a furniture store, 2.3 miles from me, if I felt the need.

Your profile says you live in Jacksonville. This comment says otherwise.
posted by oaf at 5:29 AM on April 7, 2008


I'm sorry, but as much as Manhattan may or may not rock, this just isn't very realistic. On one end, we have large capital cities and urban centers; New York, Los Angeles, DC. On the other hand we have rural farmland dotted with small towns. And then we have a huge amount of our cities in between 10,000 to 1,000,000 people. They're in the country. They have suburbs without the urbs. They are spread out of large areas (because land prices vs. building prices). And every so often, one of them turns into Los Angeles and Phoenix where it outgrows it's present paradigm or when multiple cities close by grow together. It's not planned, obviously, and it's not easily fixable. Are you going to convince hundreds of thousands of people that you want to take their area, bulldoze it, then concentrate all of their space into a sky-high apartment?

Look, I'm glad for New York and all, but a lot of this isn't repeatable, or if it is, is very hard to repeat without moving people around. You know why Phoenix doesn't have a subway system and just makes bigger roads? Because it's putting in a transportation infrastructure like that is extremely costly while just adding a little bit more isn't. Additionally, it's very hard to tell at what size and density a city should 'upgrade'.

I just . . . I'm happy for the author, but there has to be more doable solution that trumpeting the dense city, sneering at the rural town, and loathing the suburb. If you want to win, you have to provide for each of those communities, not try to turn one into the other.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:37 AM on April 7, 2008


in other words, people who give not a shit about reducing anything.

You know, there's a funny thing about owning three cars. You can still only drive one at a time.
posted by fusinski at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2008


You know, there's a funny thing about owning three cars. You can still only drive one at a time.

Unless your household is one of those freakishly rare ones with more than one person living in them, of course.
posted by signal at 8:01 AM on April 7, 2008


signal: yes, and on average those cars have a single occupant.

New York City: not efficient because it's sexy. Efficient because otherwise we couldn't live here.

The average human animal is not "green" because they want to be for it's own good, they are "green" because they must.

and paulsc: unless you'd like to rewrite this wikipedia article, you're wrong. In any event, stay out of new york city. It's dirty, dangerous, crowded, hectic, chaotic, and horrible for the environment, and living their will make you a bad, environmentally unfriendly person. Trust me.
posted by Freen at 8:12 AM on April 7, 2008


All of this is true and yet Manhattan is crammed to the gunwales with people that I wouldn't mind flaying alive and stuffing into a barrel of salt. What's the carbon overhead on getting all that salt to me in Brooklyn? Assuming I use local artisanal sea salt hand extracted from New York Harbor and I buy a second hand flayer some long dead blacksmith banged out of a railroad spike, can I flay a few hundred yuppies who priced me out of the borough where I was born and who probably make their money trading oil futures? How about I buy a nice little spread in the Catskills and grow some veggies and use a push mower and heat my house with local deadfall wood?

Tell you what, you can come to the border of my property and give me dirty looks for wanting to be around fresh air and trees and choosing when I want to talk to people and I'll promise to load birdshot and aim low and if you bring me the occasional egg cream and leave it by the gate I'll just shoot into the air and bellow a bunch.

I gotta get the fuck out of this greenest city in America, it's making me crazy.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:20 AM on April 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Paulsc

Your arguments point out individual (small) inefficiencies when I refer to the overall inefficiency/cost per capita. On this single (and arguably most important point) I am right and you are wrong. Hence the period. But keep nitpicking at the edge of the argument.
posted by lalochezia at 9:22 AM on April 7, 2008


Looking at the environmental impact of a way of living (city vs. suburbs) and reducing it to *just* the amount of driving that has to occur is absurdly redcutioninst and myopic. Carbon footprint is important and all, but it's not the whole enchilada. So, let's attempt to add up all the benefits and detractions at once, shall we? And let's not just think of it as NY vs. whatever suburb, let's also think of it as if we destroyed New York as it is and turned it into suburbs, which would mean that quite a bit of the population would have to spread out and take up hundreds of square miles of territory more than it does already (which would basically make it LA). Complaining about the spoilage of the natural beauty of Manhattan is really just a silly argument then, because you're going to have to house all those people and businesses somewhere anyway, and they'd ruin a lot more unspoiled nature if they weren't concentrated in a city.

So, where the city really racks up environmental points over the suburbs is in terms of infrastructure just due to it's compactness. Since people don't have to go as far to get something, they usually don't need cars, and thus you don't need as many roads and all that stuff that's been discussed already. You also don't lose electricity to inefficiency in wires, not as much earth has to be dug up to provide utilities to buildings, not as much water is stored in pipelines just waiting to get to it's end point, and it just takes up less room and arable land per person. Where the city really scores negative points is in the "heat island" effect, lack of permeable surfaces which creates massive amounts of stormwater runoff, and the obvious pollution problems.

Those sound bad, but you don't really gain all that much by making it suburbs instead--I don't think any of us arguing that suburbs would be better than a concentrated city like New York are going to go around claiming that a city like Los Angeles has negligible air, water or land pollution--in fact, it's one of the worst offenders. Also, to reach all the spread out homes and businesses, thousands of miles more of roads need to be constructed, which are driven upon every time any resident needs to do *anything*, and then when they reach their destination there's a gigantic parking lot. Since the population is more spread out, there need to be more retail centers to serve them, all of which have parking lots, and all of which have the same trucks delivering things to them that the city does. All the additional parking lots, roads, spread out buildings, multiple houses, driveways, and patios all create unpermeable surfaces, increasing stormwater runoff and preventing recharging of underground aquifers. Suburban homes are typically surrounded by monoculture non-native (sometimes invasive) species that decrease the biological diversity of a given region, and in areas like Southern California, draw on vanishing water supplies to support them. Even though the economics of small-scale construction mean that smaller buildings for houses and businesses can be more cheaply constructed than a skyscraper, the amount of resources that goes into that construction is more costly--you're disturbing more land for the actual jobsites, and since you have more surface area per building, you're building more exterior walls, which means more lumber harvesting for building materials. Also, buildings being further apart means more trenching and piping for plumbing and more wiring to be able to provide electricity, which means more mining for metals or more production of plastic piping.

The fact is, there's really *no* viable environmental argument to build sprawling suburbs over cities. New York might be an odious example due to its size and reputation, but its size merely makes it more efficient. Could it be better? Absolutely--and I'm actually surprised that Chicago doesn't beat it as far as being environmentally sound with the innovations they're making there (although that might be due to the date of the article). Buildings in New York could have more opportunites for green roofs or planted areas, which would mitigate the heat island effect and reduce some of the pollution. They could also emphasize more natural methods of cooling and lighting. But really, what other city in the US houses 8 million people in a *more* environmentally friendly manner? If you like living in suburbs, that's awesome, but unless your native plant landscaped yard requires zero artificial irrigation and you don't own a car, don't pretend that you're doing better environmentally than your average New Yorker.
posted by LionIndex at 10:05 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you live in a large city, you get efficiency done for you by the simple economies of scale that population density buys. You don't need to do things like grow your own food because the size of the market contributes so strongly to continuing efficiency that the lion's share is out of your hands. That's great for people who spend 75% of their time at work and the other 25% alternating between drug-induced frenzy and post-frenzy exhaustion.

If, for whatever reason, you don't need that pace of life (or the money it brings) and you want to achieve the same level of efficiency in the country, by all means please do. I would at least part time if I could. But to get the same level of efficiency by yourself takes thought, effort and sacrifice. Just living outside of a city raises the burden of being efficient.

And yes, please stay out of NYC. Horrible place, really.
posted by Skorgu at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2008


MetaFilter: people who spend 75% of their time at work and the other 25% alternating between drug-induced frenzy and post-frenzy exhaustion.

Sorry.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2008


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