Thursday, February 14, 2008

The City trumps the Prius

Hey, all you granolas. Sell your Prius, sign over the homestead to the lumber company, and move to town - it's the new frontier in honest environmentalism.

As America's unmoored energy policy flails about for some kind of "sustainable" solution to keep us moving between our American Dream wilderness retreats and the closest Wal-Mart (turns out the biofuels that won the jackpot in Washington's latest energy bill are are only going to make matters worse - oops), it's becoming increasingly clear that there isn't any sustainable way to maintain the massive amounts of energy and highway infrastructure that suburbs require.

That's the gist of a new essay-in-progress by WorldChanging editor Alex Steffen: My Other Car is a Bright Green City.

Steffen argues that even if Detroit were able to pull a 135 mile-per-gallon-equivalent hybrid out of its ass and into mass production tomorrow, the age of happy motoring would still be doomed (although any efforts that Detroit might invest to that end would be very much appreciated). Modest efforts to increase transit infrastructure and support density in existing towns and cities will have much bigger effects on our total greenhouse gas emissions than the most ambitious gas-mileage standards. Besides that, city-dwellers on average spend less energy on electricity, heating, and cooling as well.

So pack up your geodesic dome and reserve your spot at the community garden - there are still plenty of vacant lots left over from the slums they bulldozed while you were dancing away at Woodstock. The future of environmentalism is in our cities: as Steffen writes, "we might just awaken on the other side of this fight to find ourselves prosperously at home in the sort of communities we thought lost forever, leading more creative, connected and carefree lives."

1 comment:

Citymouse said...

A similar idea(s) expressed by David Owen in The New Yorker in 2004 is here:
Although I don't agree with everything he says, his main point is that living densely, in cities, is the greenest you can go. Which combines nicely with Pattern 3-City Country Fingers from A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, (which keeps city or country always within one mile of one another). These are very applicable ideas for Portland - and other cities.