Posts Tagged ‘David Owen’

The Suburbs Are Anything But Family Friendly

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The Suburbs Are Anything But Family FriendlyOne of the biggest albums of the year is “The Suburbs” by the Canadian group, Arcade Fire, which exposes the dark side of urban sprawl.  The band, fronted by the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne have created a concept album as emblematic of our generation as The Wall was for the post-Vietnam War boomers.  Try these lyrics from one of their best songs, Sprawl 2:

Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind
Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl

So, why did an indie band from Canada resonate so profoundly with us?  Putting aside the cultural war that’s always waged when you raise the issue of the burbs, we now find lots of evidence that growing up in the suburbs may not be the most advantageous environment for children according to Seattle-based Carla Saulter, writing in Grist magazine.  “We Americans tend to believe that a healthy environment in which to raise children is a large, single-family home in a quiet suburban community,” according to Saulter.  “Many of us are convinced that trading the polluted, crowded city for greener pastures (also known as the large backyards that usually come along with suburban homes) is the right decision for our children.  Unfortunately, the farther we move from urban centers, the more auto-dependent, resource-intensive, and by extension, environmentally detrimental our lives become.  Auto-dependence is bad for our children; it’s also very, very bad for the planet.”

Saulter says that living in a sprawling, auto-centric community where parents have no option but to drive their children to the grocery store or to the local playground is not doing the planet any favors.  “Environmentally responsible parenting is about more than cloth diapers and BPA-free thermoses.  It means drastically reducing the amount we consume and pollute.  It means letting go of the belief that the best way to raise children is in a 2,500 SF, two-car home with a half-acre lawn, and instead embracing a different version of ‘family friendly’, dense, diverse and transit-rich,” Saulter said.

People who live in a dense community typically live in smaller spaces, which require less energy to heat and cool.  These smaller spaces occupy less land, which means there is room for additional homes – and perhaps even forests and farmland.  “As more people are living in close proximity to each other, more resources can be shared,” according to Saulter.  “Neighborhood parks replace large backyards; coffee shops and community centers replace home offices and playrooms; public libraries replace extensive personal libraries; and nearby theaters replace media rooms.  Other resources, like power and sewer lines, can also be delivered more efficiently to densely populated communities.”

According to “The City in 2050:  Creating Blueprints for Change”, a study by the Urban Land Institute, only 25 percent of car rides in the United States have the purpose of commuting to and from work.  The remainder is spent running errands or transporting children to and from school or to activities.  The United States currently boasts a car-ownership rate of approximately 80 cars for every 100 persons; by 2030; that is expected to soar to one car per person.  Additionally, long-term trends predict a 48 percent increase in driving by 2030, though high gas prices might temper that to some extent.

Saulter recommends reading David Owen‘s “Green Metropolis:  Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability”.  

Green Metropolis Takes Aim at Environmentalists’ Conventional Wisdom

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Author David Owen thinks that New York is the nation’s greenest city.  David Owen, a staff writer with The New Yorker, has expanded on his 2004 article entitled “Green Manhattan” that roughs up some of the environmental movement’s most closely held beliefs in a new book entitled Green MetropolisA review by Catherine Tumber, originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, notes that “Eco-friendly suburbanites and small-town residents are only kidding themselves as long as they live in sparsely settled, spaciously appointed, auto-dependent communities.  If they really want to reduce their carbon footprint in any significant way, they should live in densely settled, pedestrian-friendly, public-transit-oriented cities like New York.”

Owen suggests that cities like New York build on their biggest low-carbon asset – their large population densities – and place less emphasis on green buildings, urban agriculture and increasing the size of the city’s parks.  He even believes that Central Park is too big and wasted space that could be used to support even more housing.  Additionally, Owen takes aim at “the spectrum of green-tech fixes under development, from residential solar panels and LEED-certified buildings to ‘net-metering,’ de-concentrated ‘distributed’ electricity generation, ethanol production and electric cars.  ‘Nature-conservancy brain’ and ‘LEED brain,’ as he calls these environmentalist fixations, are too often driven by PR and do little more than distract from the more difficult task at hand:  how to get Americans to kick the car habit and live together more closely, in smaller spaces,” Tumber writes.

According to Owen, New Yorkers are environmentalists because they live in a city where a car is a luxury and residents tend to walk, take the bus or the subway.  “In urban planning in particular,” he said, “the best, most enduringly fruitful concepts have usually arisen accidentally, and have endured not because anyone was wise enough to identify and preserve them but because they serendipitously developed what was, in effect, a life of their own.  Owen argues that New York should be viewed as a model for other cities that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

Tumber notes that “Owen makes a point, almost in passing, that also deserves further conversation:  rather than reducing the carbon footprints of apartment buildings or growing food on precious urban real estate, cities should be focusing on ‘old-fashioned quality-of-life-concerns’ such as education, crime, noise and recreational amenities – the very troubles that drove people into suburbia in the first place.”