Surprise--Is New York the Greenest Place in the US?

times square.jpg

Environmental 360, Yale School of Forestry and Enviropnmental Studies online magazine, carried a story with this headline, “Greenest Place in the U.S.? It’s Not Where You Think.” The gist of the article is that the urban density of New York creates a smaller ecological footprint than other apparently more pristine places. The author, David Owen, a staff writer for The New Yorker has recently published a book entitled, “Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability.” Hard to buy this line while looking at this iconic photograph of Times Square.

His thesis is, after the momentary shock the assertion produces, quite plausible. Two of the major contributors to environmental harms are energy use and the automobile. Dense cities, like New York, exhibit much lower automobile ownership and use and lower per capita energy consumption than typical sprawling metropolitan areas. I haven’t read his book to understand the basis for his numbers and I am a little suspicious. The article mentions data for Manhattanites. Manhattan expands dramatically everyday as the commuters pour in from other places. It is critical to compare metropolitan areas not just the central city. In any case, his argument is pretty convincing.

Being “green” is only a part of sustainability. To determine how well anyplace impacts the sustainability of the larger system in which it sits, one has to look through the fisheye lens of sustainability. Some measure or measures of how the human being is doing is essential to such an assessment. And I wonder how New York or any similar very dense metropolis shows up in these terms. Can and does being struggle harder against having in these places? I don’t know the answer. It is telling, perhaps, that the very green New York is also the home of Bernie Madoff and almost all of the zillionaire Wall Street executives, all chasing another kind of green.

I have to add a qualifier to this last statement. I live in Lexington Massachusetts, just two blocks away from the former home of Charles Ponzi, who Madoff has made look like a small time crook.