Sunday is Earth Day, and as we take the time to appreciate all that the planet provides and lament all the destruction and degradation we have caused, lets also think about one thing we seem to be doing right: cities.
A recent book by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, details the myriad ways that urban living leads to a greater quality of life. Cities are incubators of ideas and innovations as denser populations lead to easier communication and increased collaboration. The dynamism of cities leads to economic vitality and the spread of knowledge. City dwellers have better health, earn more, and are less likely to commit suicide than their rural counterparts.
Glaeser writes that “cities magnify humanity’s strength,” and, at the same time, they also mitigate our environmental footprint. It may seem counterintuitive that living surrounded by concrete is greener than living in a leafy, bucolic suburb, but it has been shown that the larger the city, the lower the relative environmental impact. People in cities drive less and take public transportation more often thereby decreasing emissions from transportation. Dense living also encourages energy savings as it takes significantly less energy per person to heat and cool an apartment building than a single family home.
Multiple studies have found that per capita emissions for cities are significantly lower than those of rural areas or suburbs. It has also been shown that the bigger the city, the lower the per capita emissions. New York City produces 7.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita compared to a national average of 23.92. Another analysis conducted by prominent urbanist Richard Florida along with colleagues at the Martin Prosperity Institute found that emissions per capita, emissions per worker, and emissions per amount of economic output, found that larger metro areas performed significantly better on these measures than did smaller ones.