Go Big To Go Green

New research suggests that the bigger a city is, the greener it can be.

"Your mental image of a green city might resemble designer fantasies such as Ebenezer Howard's Garden City or Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City-sleek towers nestled in lush forests, where a stroll down Main Street would feel like a walk in the woods. Or maybe you're thinking of small towns such as Hastings, Neb. (population 25,000), which Yahoo! just named "the greenest city in America." Or you might have in mind something more nostalgic, like Grover's Corners, the fictional hamlet made famous in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, New Urbanism's literary ancestor. Modest developments with lots of green space must be the answer, right?"

"Wrong. New research reveals that bigger is better. This spring, a groundbreaking study led by Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute showed that cities conform to the phenomenon known as 'biological scaling.' All organisms operate in similar ways, regardless of size-metabolically, an elephant is a lot like a mouse, just bigger. More important, the larger the animal, the more efficiently it uses energy. Cities are the same-the larger they are, the more economical. Analyzing various data including electrical use, gas consumption, and lengths of roads, West and his team found that 'regardless of size and location, cities conform to certain universal dynamics-just like biological organisms.'"

Full Story: Is Bigger Better?

Comments

Comments

Is Bigger Greener?

I am dubious about this one. I think density makes the city greener, not absolute population size. An old European city of 100,000 where people live in apartments and walk is greener than a much more populous city like Houston, where people live in suburban houses and drive everywhere. The denser city will obviously do better then the more populous city in terms of "electrical use, gas consumption, and lengths of roads."

I suspect that they got these results because larger cities are generally denser, and they didn't look at density independently.

Biological scaling is based on the fact that, as animals or other objects get larger, their volume increased by the cube of their height while their surface area increases by the square of their height, so they lose less energy per unit of volume. This applies to the density of cities: apartment buildings lose less energy than houses. But it doesn't apply to the population of cities.

I am also amazed to hear a director at McDonough say:

"Your mental image of a green city might resemble designer fantasies such as Ebenezer Howard's Garden City .. Or maybe you're thinking of small towns such as Hastings, Neb. (population 25,000), ...Modest developments with lots of green space must be the answer, right?"

Does he really think it is news that higher density reduces environmental impact? Where has he been for the last few decades?

Charles Siegel

Green Cities.

I think density makes the city greener, not absolute population size.

I agree. Matt Kahn explores this idea in his book Green Cities, and related, explores the likelihood of lawmakers changing regulation in the wake of environmental shocks here.

Best,

D

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