Our Urban Challenge: Green Density

I’ve just started reading an interesting book by David Owen entitled Green Metropolis. I discovered it on this list of the top ten urban planning/design books published in 2009. (Note that David Byrne’s book tops the list.)

The premise of Owen’s book is that dense, urban living is greener living. A big part of the reason it’s greener is that

…what you actually do when you move out of the city is move into a car, because public transit is nonexistent and most daily destinations are too widely separated to make walking or bicycling plausible….

The resident of a typical American town or small city burns more gas, creates more solid waste, and uses more water than your typical Manhattan apartment dweller. Owens trots out the statistics to demonstrate this.

(One quibble: I think using a bicycle is possible for more people than Owen realizes. It’s not so much distance barriers that, say, small-town residents face as cultural barriers.)

Owen acknowledges that this green argument is a bit counter-intuitive. And, really, I’m not so much interested in the green argument for density as I am in the living-standard argument. But the green argument may certainly play a role in attracting people to Springfield’s urban core if we can also provide the amenities that make urban life attractive.

I think an important amenity is transportation and/or a particular transportation environment.

As I begin the process of helping develop Springfield’s new transportation plan, I’m thinking that transportation is about more than people moving from place to place. It can, and should, also be about attracting people — attracting people to Springfield’s urban core, attracting business to the core, and retaining our college graduates as creative-class residents of the core.

I think creating a bicycle-pedestrian city in the core is one amenity that will encourage movement there — thus attracting residents, thus raising density, thus attracting business, thus helping the environment.

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