Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Paul Krugman the Urbanist

Dateline: 11:28 am May 19, 2008 Filed under:

Of all the talk lately in the mainstream media about how to be more “green,” the discussion is typically about how we live, not where we live. Rising gas prices have “fueled” the discussion of green even more, and thankfully today’s New York Times contains an Op-Ed by Paul Krugman called “Stranded in Suburbia” that finally brings the topic of “where” we live in to the discussion in to the mainstream media.

Everywhere you look, there is talk of green. My local paper, the Star Tribune, published a special section recently on how to be more “green.” It discussed the usual suspects of recycling, installing energy-efficient light bulbs, building or remodeling with energy-efficient materials (bamboo and cork are all the rage), and buying a hybrid car. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, as chair of the National Governors Association, has made clean energy his main topic. Of course, we are all familiar with the writings of Thomas Friedman and the Nobel Prize-winning efforts on the part of Al Gore to raise awareness of climate change.

But rarely, from my local paper on up to Friedman and Gore, does where we live garner a mention. Yet it must. True, our buildings are responsible for the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions, but transportation is close behind. Most Americans depend on an automobile for nearly all needs, and that not only creates CO2 emissions but also makes gas price increases more painful because they must drive. New York City doesn’t have the lowest per capita energy consumption because New Yorkers recycle and drive hybrids, but rather because of urban density and transit. Urban dwellers are more energy efficient because they occupy smaller spaces and because they meet more of their needs without an automobile.

Geography is destiny. True, we need to be a whole lot more energy efficient with our building practices in this country, but all the green buildings in the world solves only half the problem if they are accessible only by car. It is a mixed blessing that high gas prices are finally prompting this discussion, but Paul Krugman is helping us finally get there.

As Doug Farr notes in his recent book, Sustainable Urbanism, getting urban design right in order to mitigate climate change is this generation’s moon shot. It involves both how and where. The planning and development industry knows this, and knows how to get it done. But, as Krugman points out, it will take an educated public to accept higher density and push for increased transit funding, and simply more sidewalks. This may be our moon shot, but luckily it doesn’t involve rocket science to get us there.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.