And it would also reduce the real but unaccounted-for environmental and social externalities of our sprawling homogenous suburbs. Someone living in New York has half the energy footprint of the average American. And while the city is pretty segregated, the New York subway is a unique setting of rich and poor people of all races utilizing a public service together.
We need to change the wrong headed notion that dense urbanity is somehow bad for the environment. On the contrary, it's how we need to build in order to save the earth.
Dense urbanity is bad for the local environment and, particularly, for human health in it. That's the cost of the lower per-capita impact on the global environment that it provides. We need to learn from what works (and what doesn't) in both dense and sparse environments to build lower-global-impact environments that remain high quality environments for human health and quality of life.
In the US, life expectancy is higher for people in urban areas than rural areas. Urban areas have less obesity, lower rates of suicide, lower rates of accidental death, higher quality of life for the elderly, and higher rates of healthy exercise.
It's true that some studies have shown higher rates of asthma and allergies in cities, but there are also contradictory studies saying that those things are just identified and treated more aggressively in cities -- because they tend to have much better access to healthcare services.
I'd like to see the capital/environmental costs of heavy urban development compared to electric cars in the suburbs and rural areas.
I'll drive a Nissan Leaf ($199/month) if it means I don't have to live in an urban area (I work from home).
Suburban heating and cooling involves larger spaces for less people (houses being bigger in the suburbs),
In an urban environment, there is a lower environmental cost for transportation and processing of food/water/other goods (fewer locations to deliver to).
In an urban environment, I would expect fewer materials are needed to maintain infrastructure (power lines, water pipes, roads, etc). Manufacturing all of these parts involves an environmental cost.
Suburban living currently almost certainly means a big lawn. Traditional green lawns are bad for the environment.
Urban communities can also centralize waste disposal and (I suspect) more easily implement recycling programs.
Finally, don't forget that an electric car is only actually better for the environment if the electricity is produced sustainably (this is mostly not the case in the US). I suspect that electric cars may actually be worse for the environment if powered by most US power plants.
Shouldn't matter as long as your dwelling is properly insulated.
> In an urban environment, there is a lower environmental cost for transportation and processing of food/water/other goods (fewer locations to deliver to).
I concede this point, although moving trucks to cleaner fuels will resolve this.
> In an urban environment, I would expect fewer materials are needed to maintain infrastructure (power lines, water pipes, roads, etc). Manufacturing all of these parts involves an environmental cost.
This is mostly a sunk cost with existing suburban and rural infrastructure.
> Suburban living currently almost certainly means a big lawn. Traditional green lawns are bad for the environment.
No disagreement, although you're not required to have a lawn. You can cover the whole area with rock or a garden (I know several people who do either).
> Urban communities can also centralize waste disposal and (I suspect) more easily implement recycling programs.
My local suburban trash service uses methane from the local landfill to power its vehicles, and in due time will switch to electric vehicles.
> Finally, don't forget that an electric car is only actually better for the environment if the electricity is produced sustainably (this is mostly not the case in the US). I suspect that electric cars may actually be worse for the environment if powered by most US power plants.
This was the point I was most interested in responding to. In all cases, electric vehicles are better than petroleum vehicles, even if powered by fossil fuel generation sources. Its much simpler to maintain emissions controls on one coal plant than 100K cars. Also, your fleet gets "cleaner" as renewables and other clean energies come online, whereas your petroleum-powered vehicles will always burn petrol for the life of the vehicle.
I realize that neither of us are citing sources, but I'm pretty sure you are wrong about this. I don't want to spend too much more time on this response (I wrote the other bits first). So I'll leave it at that.
> I concede this point, although moving trucks to cleaner fuels will resolve this.
It could mitigate some of this, but definitely not all of it. Resources will still be spent on replacing worn parts or entire trucks in the fleet. Expending resources will always have some negative effect on the environment.
> This is mostly a sunk cost with existing suburban and rural infrastructure.
I said maintenance not construction. Infrastructure decays incredibly quickly. We are constantly replacing and upgrading our infrastructure. Power lines go down in storms. Water pipes get broken as the earth settles. Roads are repaved or rebuilt constantly.
> No disagreement, although you're not required to have a lawn. You can cover the whole area with rock or a garden (I know several people who do either).
> My local suburban trash service uses methane from the local landfill to power its vehicles, and in due time will switch to electric vehicles.
Ok, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be easier (cheaper and less resource intensive) to ramp up such services for the same number of people if those people are living at a higher population density.
> This was the point I was most interested in responding to. In all cases, electric vehicles are better than petroleum vehicles, even if powered by fossil fuel generation sources. Its much simpler to maintain emissions controls on one coal plant than 100K cars. Also, your fleet gets "cleaner" as renewables and other clean energies come online, whereas your petroleum-powered vehicles will always burn petrol for the life of the vehicle.
I seem to be thinking about completely different sources of environmental damage from you. My understanding is that 1) the majority of the environmental costs from cars actually comes from new car production, not from fuel consumption. 2) Electricity distribution is inefficient enough that it requires a disproportionately large amount of coal to power a car when compared to the petrol used to drive the car the same distance. 3) Electric car batteries are composed of materials that must be mined, which carries its own environmental costs.
For the record, I didn't downvote you. I don't downvote people just because they disagree with me. I also don't have downvote privileges on this site anyway. I'm enjoying the discussion and I hope that you are too!
This is absolutely true and some of the daughter comments are missing the point; see Edward Glaeser's The Triumph of the City (http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...) for more details, but people in urban environments tend to drive less and drive shorter distances; they're less likely to own cars in general and more likely to take mass transportation or bike; and their overall energy usage for heating and cooling is much lower because they share those costs (and walls) with neighbors.
Everyone has to live somewhere, and every time a five to fifty story building gets blocked in a city, dozens or hundreds of high-energy-cost, detached single-family houses get built in Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta.
So at least for carbon footprints, those don't necessarily seem to be linked to density.
I couldn't find anything on energy footprint though.
And unlike California, those cities require winter heat and simmer cooling. Manhattanites spend about 1/6 carbon budget on transportation as someone in say San Jose.
We humans use land extremelly inefficiently, we mostly live in places outside of our temperature optimum despite no longer being busy in agriculture.
I would've expected those density gains to be somewhat more offset by the worse fuel efficiency of sitting in LA traffic, though... but on the other hand, much of the LA area has far lower heating/cooling costs than almost anywhere else in the country.
Every study I have seen shows the opposite, that carbon footprints are strongly linked to density and urban-suburban divisions. In 2012, for example, climate researchers at Berkeley put together a map for the entire United States showing average household carbon footprint by zip code . They found that suburban emissions are markedly higher than emissions in their respective central cities almost everywhere, confirming a result that Edward Glaeser and other urban economists had already established .
The FAQ  for the Berkeley researchers' paper  summarizes the headline finding like this:
There is an inverted-U relationship between population density and HCF [household carbon footprint]; HCF increases ... from low to medium population densities, and decreases from medium to high population densities. The turning point is about 3,000 persons per square mile, which is very close to medium population density of all locations, and a little higher than the population density of larger suburbs (which have densities of 2,700 persons per square mile).
In other words, low- and high-density places (rural areas and cities) have low household carbon footprints and middle-density places (suburbs) have high footprints. Controlling for income, the authors found that the inverted U goes away and the relationship becomes more monotonic: population density is negatively correlated with carbon emissions across the spectrum of density levels. The upswing of the inverted U-curve that you see before controlling for income happens because, as American communities are actually arranged, middle-density areas (which are relatively dense suburbs) tend to be wealthy, and emissions are also strongly correlated with consumption; the consumption effect dominates the efficiency gains due to higher densities as you go from rural areas to suburbs, and it's not until you get to city-level densities (and poorer urban populations) that the efficiency gains due to density win out over consumption-driven emissions.
So part of the reason that suburbs have high emissions is that the people who live there are relatively rich, and the richer you are the more stuff you consume. But no matter how rich or poor you are, the study suggests, you will likely have a noticeably lower carbon footprint if you live in a city and pursue a lifestyle typical of your income class there rather than doing the likewise in a suburb.
The authors also found, by the way, that suburban sprawl around the central cities of large metropolises effectively offsets the carbon-efficiency of the dense cities themselves ; the larger the central city, the greater the sprawl surrounding it, and the number of inefficient suburban households tends roughly to balance out the carbon efficiency of households in the central city.
1. See, e.g., http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_1_green-cities.html
2. http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/files/coolclimate/Jones-Kamm... [PDF]
3. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4034364 [PDF]
"Lifting the barriers" to development doesn't mean that a 50 story residential tower will be built in Central Park West. You are the barrier. Lifting them means that as a citizen, you lose control of your surroundings.
So when a big company, say Pfizer, works with the city to raze your neighborhood through an eminent domain process, you're fucked. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London)
It doesn't eliminate gentrification, it industrialized the process.
Pfizer later sold the whole thing for pennies on the dollar to a defense contractor after pulling out of that town, all that after never actually building on all of the land that was leveled.
I don't think Manhattan is a good example of a place with too restrictive laws. But SF and DC certainly are. In DC for example, you wouldn't see 80 story apartment buildings in Georgetown, but you would see them in Chinatown, NOMA, NavyYard, and other places.
Instead lower middle class black neighborhoods are converting to overpriced condos as fast as house-flippers can do it.
Another solution is to make commuting from a "long distance" (e.g. 60-120 miles) more bearable. In NYC, for instance, subways could be built to NJ.
Faster trains (low-speed maglevs) could be built like what's being done in China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_S1,_BCR).
Mountain View to San Francisco is 40 miles. Is there some reason that isn't a 40 minute commute?
That would only be your full commute, though, if you were doing deep SoMa to downtown Mountain View.
We need more of this. I don't know where the low-hanging fruit is in mass transit, but a lot more could be done.
Cities like Chicago have long distance commuter trains, but the commutes are still long. You can take a train from the near west side of Chicago to HArvard, IL (where Motorola built a huge campus and then abandoned it) in about an hour and 45 minutes. But it would be a 70 mile drive. But that skips over a bunch of farmland.
Chicago to Cary, IL would like SF to Mountain view. Train ride is 1:15 minutes. But then you need to get from the train stations to each door on both ends. Realistically its more like 1:45 door to door. People do it.
But living in a high rise is much more preferable to me.
I don't get why'd you make an low speed maglev.
Anyway, I was thinking more along the lines of extending the 7 to NJ.
Enter the train at Secaucus, for example, then be able to go to Grand Central Station. Part of the hassle of mass transit is that if you need to make 3 transfers, and have to wait 10 minutes at each one, your commute gets long fast. Extending the NYC Subway in NJ would have several benefits, including reducing the slow crawl through the Lincoln tunnel, where almost 7000 busses cram in daily.
"ARC would have cut passenger transfers by 97 percent and taken an average 23 minutes off each trip, according to the GAO. It also would have been financed at historically low rates."
If a bunch of billionaires want to pay property taxes while using barely any city services that sounds like a win to me. We can use that money to provide better services to the people that do live in the city year round.
In my observation the people who are most bitter about billionaires "buying up Manhattan" are the multimillionaires who want to be on the top of the heap.
If other cities were built to similar density, you could have a similar (or even better) energy footprint compared to a New Yorker without the necessity of having to live in NYC itself. Now, there would be a change in lifestyle (fewer people owning cars, more people walking and using transit, fewer people owning detached houses) but most of those benefit quality of life anyway.
Unless you are actively turning some non-productive land into productive land (eg, greening a desert), you're probably a negative on sequestration no matter what. It's just a question of how negative, and living in the city is probably less negative.
If anything taking sequestration into account would make suburbs look worse. 100 acres of dense urban development plus 400 acres of untouched forest is going to sequester much more carbon than 500 acres of suburbs with a few trees sprinkled throughout, yet they would hold the same number of people.