Synopses & Reviews
A challenging, controversial, and highly readable look at our lives, our world, and our future.
In this remarkable challenge to conventional thinking about the environment, David Owen argues that the greenest community in the United States is not Portland, Oregon, or Snowmass, Colorado, but New York, New York.
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 per capita 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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Owen...does an important service in pointing out that those who live in cities can be just as green as your garden-variety organic farmer." Kirkus Reviews
"Owen's engaging, accessible book challenges the idea of green and urban living. Recommended for readers interested in urban planning or environmental issues." Library Journal
"Owens offers a fresh, lucid, irreverent, and realistic view of how we live and what environmental improvement we can actually achieve." Booklist
"Owen's style...is cool, understated and witty; it does not appear to be in his nature to be alarmist. But this is a thoroughly alarming book." Washington Post
"For those unfamiliar with the environmental argument for urban density, Green Metropolis
(which developed from a 2004 article Owen wrote for The New Yorker
) is a fair place to start. Owen devotes a good part of his book to showing that high-tech green fixes — developing an electric-car industry, constructing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings, and going off the grid with residential solar panels and other technologies — offer false comfort, as long as they perpetuate our dependence on automobile transportation." Catherine Tumber, The Wilson Quarterly
(Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review
In this remarkable challenge to conventional thinking about the environment, Owen argues that the greenest community in the U.S. is not Portland, Oregon, or Snowmass, Colorado, but New York City.
From the acclaimed New Yorker writer, a thought-provoking, innovative, and challenging new approach to protecting our environment.
Most Americans think of cities as ecological nightmares-wastelands of concrete, garbage, diesel fumes and traffic jams-but residents of urban cores actually consume less oil, electricity, and water than hybrid- driving Vermonters do, and they have smaller carbon footprints. Essentially, they're forced to. In this remarkable challenge to conventional thinking about the environment, David Owen offers an invaluable environmental template for a global population that is growing as natural resources shrink. Green Metropolis will change the way people think about the environment.
About the Author
David Owen is a staff writer for the New Yorker, a contributing editor to Golf Digest, and a frequent contributor to the Atlantic Monthly. His other books include The First National Bank of Dad, The Chosen One, The Making of the Masters, and My Usual Game. He lives in Washington, Connecticut.