1.28.2008

HOTTER CITIES, HUNGRIER SUBURBS

Joel Kotkin, author of “The City: A Global History” and a sort of defender of suburban sprawl, has penned an interesting piece in the Washington Post about how cities aren’t without blame in our inexorable march towards global warming: ” Hot World? Blame Cities.” Urban centers, Kotkin argues, generate “heat islands,” whose consequences are further exacerbated by higher air conditioning use. Low-density areas, he replies, can be easily cooled by energy-efficient windows, shades, and trees.

I haven’t done the math, but I’m not buying this line of thinking. The quintessential unattached single-family residence is exposed to the elements on five of its six sides, with only its floor protected. Cities, on the other hand, have a preponderance of twins (four sides exposed), rows (three sides exposed), and apartments (three, two, one, or no sides exposed). And you’re telling me city units contribute more to energy consumption than suburban ones?

I understand that high-density living isn’t for everyone, so I’m not trying to judge suburbanites or coerce them into moving to cities or making their neighborhoods more dense. People are free to make choices, and some prefer to drive and have space. But those choices have consequences, literally consequences for the whole planet. And contrary to what Mr. Kotkin believes, I have to think that suburbanites are underpaying for their contribution to those consequences.
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