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Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are theKeys to Sustainability
     

Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are theKeys to Sustainability

4.3 8
by David Owen
 

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Look out for David Owen's next book, Where the Water Goes.

A challenging, controversial, and highly readable look at our lives, our world, and our future.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows,

Overview

Look out for David Owen's next book, Where the Water Goes.

A challenging, controversial, and highly readable look at our lives, our world, and our future.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan—the most densely populated place in North America—rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.

These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Green Metropolis] challenges many cherished assumptions about easy-on-the-earth country living... Pugnacious and contrarian, the book has a lot of fun at the expense of sentimental pastoralists, high-minded environmentalists and rich people trying to buy their way into higher green consciousness with expensive 'eco-friendly' add-ons (photovoltaic panels on their suburban McMansions, say).” —New York Times

Green Metropolis is important not for the answers it yields but the questions it raisesquestions that should be part of the ongoing dialogue about the health of our planet.” —Christian Science Monitor

Green Metropolis is an important contribution to our understanding of how we live.” —Boston Globe

“A marvelously clear-eyed analysis of the growing energy/environmental crisis.” —Hartford Courant

“David Owen always delights with his elegant insights and his challenges to conventional thinking. In this book, he does so again by puncturing the myth of ecological Arcadia and reminding us why living in cities is the best way to be green. It's a triumph of clear thinking and writing.”Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe

“David Owen pumps some minty fresh air into the haze of green marketing. In his provocative new book, he turns conventional wisdom on its head and takes a clear-eyed look at what 'green' might truly mean in a nation of 300 million (and counting) in the 21st century.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Jonathan Yardley
The deservedly respected journalist David Owen spent a lot of time in recent years patrolling the environmental beat, doing research for the excellent book we now have before us…Owen's style, here as in his 13 previous books, is cool, understated and witty; it does not appear to be in his nature to be alarmist. But this is a thoroughly alarming book, perhaps all the more so because Owen is so matter-of-fact: The facts alone are so discouraging that no rhetorical flourishes are necessary to underscore their urgency.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

While the conventional wisdom condemns it as an environmental nightmare, Manhattan is by far the greenest place in America, argues this stimulating eco-urbanist manifesto. According to Owen (Sheetrock and Shellac), staff writer at the New Yorker, New York City is a model of sustainability: its extreme density and compactness-and horrifically congested traffic-encourage a carfree lifestyle centered on walking and public transit; its massive apartment buildings use the heat escaping from one dwelling to warm the ones adjoining it; as a result, he notes, New Yorkers' per capita greenhouse gas emissions are less than a third of the average American's. The author attacks the "powerful anti-urban bias of American environmentalists" like Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins, whose rurally situated, auto-dependent Rocky Mountain Institute he paints as an ecological disaster area. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
New Yorker writer Owen lays out a simple plan to address our environmental crisis—live smaller, live closer, and drive less. He presents a convincing argument that the antiurbanism of American environmental thought is flawed [Stewart Brand makes the same point in his Whole Earth Discipline, see above—Ed.]. The built-in efficiencies of urban life create and preserve open spaces, whereas suburban sprawl contributes to energy inefficiency and further environmental degradation. Just as Thomas L. Friedman in Hot, Flat, and Crowded discussed the role of oil in American life and our need to redefine America's vision, Owen asserts that every discussion about the environment is, in the end, about oil and that reducing environmental destruction means redefining our view of prosperity. He effectively connects the dots among oil, cars, public transportation, ethanol, rising food prices, and the role of plastic in modern life. VERDICT Owen's engaging, accessible book challenges the idea of green and urban living. Recommended for readers interested in urban planning or environmental issues. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/09.]—Robin K. Dillow, Oakton Community Coll., Des Plaines, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Want to reduce your carbon footprint and save the planet? Move to Manhattan. New Yorker staff writer Owen (Sheetrock & Shellac: A Thinking Person's Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement, 2006, etc.) seeks earnestly to overturn the traditional wisdom that says the only way to show your love for Mother Earth is to move to the country, make candles and go locavore. "New York," he writes, "is the greenest community in the United States." This may seem counterintuitive, but consider: Most urbanites live in small spaces rather than the McMansions of suburbia, if only because they cannot afford anything larger, and most walk to the grocery store, take mass transit and get enough exercise to avoid becoming slugs (mere consumers, that is). Conversely, a back-to-the-lander may live virtuously, but taking a Volvo rather than Birkenstocks to the store undoes many good intentions. Owen assembles useful facts, some of them sure to be surprises even for the most learned of NYC boosters. Still, he recognizes that were it not for the accident of crowded island life, Manhattan and environs could just as easily be Los Angeles. "When cities are built on a ‘human' scale," he writes, "they virtually force the creation of vast suburbs, with miles of freeways, long commutes, traffic jams, and shopping malls." Occasionally the author inflates the significance of the facts to support his thesis. After all, it comes down to the hows as well as the wheres-a vegetarian living in the country, for instance, no matter how car-happy, will use fewer resources than a meat eater in the city. Owen works the city-versus-countryside theme into the ground-ruralites may feel a little picked-on-but the author does animportant service in pointing out that those who live in cities can be just as green as your garden-variety organic farmer-and even more so. He's no McPhee or Pollan, but Owen provides a dogged, contrarian argument that scores some good points.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594484841
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/02/2010
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
590,492
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Praise for Green Metropolis

“[Owen] makes a convincing case that Manhattan, Hong Kong and large, old European cities are inherently greener than less densely populated places… [Green Metropolis] challenges many cherished assumptions about easy-on-the-earth country living… Pugnacious and contrarian, the book has a lot of fun at the expense of sentimental pastoralists, high-minded environmentalists and rich people trying to buy their way into higher green consciousness with expensive “eco-­friendly” add-ons (photovoltaic panels on their suburban McMansions, say).” – New York Times
 
“Owen's style, here as in his 13 previous books, is cool, understated and witty; it does not appear to be in his nature to be alarmist. But this is a thoroughly alarming book, perhaps all the more so because Owen is so matter-of-fact: The facts alone are so discouraging that no rhetorical flourishes are necessary to underscore their urgency.” – Washington Post
 
Green Metropolis is important not for the answers it yields but the questions it raises – questions that should be part of the ongoing dialogue about the health of our planet.” – Christian Science Monitor
 
“In today’s context of climate change, energy, and a new green economy, David Owen makes an eloquent case that density is in fact the most efficient form of human settlement… Green Metropolis is an important contribution to our understanding of how we live.” – The Boston Globe
 
“”David Owen pumps some minty fresh air into the haze of green marketing. In his provocative new book, he turns conventional wisdom on its head and takes a clear-eyed look at what ‘green’ might truly mean in a nation of 300 million (and counting) in the 21st century.” – San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A marvelously clear-eyed analysis of the growing energy/environmental crisis.” – Hartford Courant
 
“Owen’s lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world’s environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Owen mounts a vigorous challenge… New York’s dense urbanity, he contends, offers a compelling blueprint for addressing our ecological crises, not with pie-in-the-sky technology, but with the underappreciated virtues of physical and social connectedness.” – In These Times
 
“With arresting and nonconformist views on agriculture, architecture, “videophilia,” and the healthy aspects of city life, Owen offers a fresh, lucid, irreverent, and realistic view of how we live and what environmental improvement we can actually achieve.” – Booklist
 
Green Metropolis presents powerful challenges for modern efforts aiming to decrease human impact on the environment…. Green Metropolis is in many ways eye opening…. A must read for anyone interested in understanding the changes that we must make collectively as we move into a future with constrained resources and a population forever looking to increase the overall quality of life.” – Localplan.org
 
“[A] wise, eco-urbanist manifesto… Owen is adept at debunking the increasingly accepted notions that urban parks, ethanol, and locavorism are ‘green.’ His portrayal of New York City as a kind of conservationist utopia amid vast rural wastefulness lands yet another blow on the myth of small-town values.” – The Village Voice
 
“[A] provocative manifesto that inverts many of our sacred assumptions about environmentalism… [Owen’s] book mounts a passionate, fact-studded case for ‘the environmental advantages of Manhattan-style urban density.’… Green Metropolis is fascinating and thought-provoking.” – NPR.org
 
Green Metropolis… could not be timelier.” – Solutions Journal
 
“”Provocative.” – Chicago Reader
 
“Nobody makes the case for cities’ superior environmental performance better than David Owen… [A] well-researched book that vigorously defends cities from misguided environmental thought…. Green Metropolis is riveting and fiercely intelligent.” – New Urban News
 

Meet the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author more than a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman.

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