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Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  819 ratings  ·  144 reviews
A challenging, controversial, and highly readable look at our lives, our world, and our future.

In this remarkable challenge to conventional thinking about the environment, David Owen argues that the greenest community in the United States is not Portland, Oregon, or Snowmass, Colorado, but New York, New York.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2009)
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I enjoyed this book very much. It surely turned my thinking about our living environment upside down. The book has thoroughly convinced me that dense cities with good infrastructure are the best solution to our long-term environmental problems. Densely packed buildings for living and working do save on most of our resources; fuel, heat, electricity, water

So, why doesn't the author move from his rural home back to the city? Owen addresses this question at the end of the book. He writes that if he
This book tries to make a surprising argument: the ultra-urban lifestyle of New York City is more environmentally sustainable than living in the suburbs or the country. But is that actually surprising? It seemed a little obvious to me. The author's point is that there is no lifestyle choice more significant to the environment than how much you drive. If you choose a lifestyle that involves a lot of driving, it doesn't matter how much you recycle or choose bamboo flooring or switch to a hybrid ca ...more
This book is terrible. The premise is alright although no where near as revolutionary as Owen would lead you to believe, but the book is terrible.

The premise is that cities with a high population density are better for the environment than suburbs. People in cities use less space and less energy. Again, this isn't revolutionary. Years ago, I spent a semester in grad school looking at ways of increasing population density. The author makes it seem like all environmentalists hate cities, which set
Overall, I found this book repetitive and not all that interesting. The author tended to ramble a lot and tell somewhat irrelevant anecdotes to somehow illustrate a larger point. His tone was a bit arrogant, and he seemed to go out of his way to insult most issues that environmentalists hold dear. He had a point in many of those cases, but it was hard to get around his obnoxious tone.

What bugged me the most was his hypocrisy. He said that the most sustainable way for us to live is in big cities
This book should be subtitled, "Why living in New York City is awesome."

The problem I have with this book is that the author has so many citations and bases his discussion in fact, then argues his opinion on top of it. Why should I believe him over experts? He makes valid points, but offers no alternative solutions and seems to poo-poo lots of environmental efforts. If the common environmentalist doesn't consider the whole picture as he tends to argue, then how can I be so sure he's not missing
This is a tough one to review. It's very clear and readable and not boring. His central point, that living in cities, i.e. high population density in vibrant neighborhoods, is environmentally (and probably in other ways) much better than sprawling, car-centered, low-density living, is well-backed-up and convincing.

But I get the feeling reading it that he is glossing over a lot of important points. He just barely pays attention to why so many people seem to want to move out into the suburbs, ins
I really enjoyed this book - it's an intriguing line of reasoning that old-style mixed-used cities with dense populations are actually inherently easier on the environment (per capita) than sprawling suburban/rural development.

The author also explains some basic energy issues (where does gas come from? What do we make out of oil? How much oil is there?) and makes some interesting points about people's environmental assumptions - for example, about the locavore food movement (local food isn't al
There were things I liked about this book, and things I didn't. First off, I found myself often wondering what environmental movement he was talking about, as just about every environmentalist I am familiar with is singing the praises of urban living. Clearly, David Owen doesn't read Grist. And yet, he eventually told us what environmentalists he was talking about, and I guess I have to admit that there are some who just don't seem to get it.
I also thought the tone of the book was pretty lousy.
The argument that people who love nature should probably live in big cities may seem counter intuitive on the surface, but it makes perfect sense to me. Suburban sprawl, where no one walks anywhere and public transportation is a laugh, basically forces people to drive miles to get anywhere while simultaneously turning the landscape into asphalt and turf grass. Owen's point about mixed zoning is an excellent one.

I also like the point he makes about the boring things like insulation and water use
Intriguing, very counterintuitive. The book is essentially a systematic debunking of all the assumptions Americans commonly make about what sustainable, green living would look like. For example, it would *not* involve buying a Prius, installing high-tech windows, putting in solar panels, shifting toward consumption of locally produced food and other goods, building LEED certified buildings, or moving to a rural area and "living off the land." On the contrary, any of those steps would more than ...more
The premise of this book… that densely-settled, public-transportation-depend cities are the most sustainable way for people to live… seems very true and believable, so much so that I got tired of the author trying so hard to convince me of what I had already accepted by the first chapter. I wish instead that he had spent more time explaining how the uniquely green aspects of Manhattan can be in any way be applied to existing communities that are small or already sprawl victims. I came up with so ...more
John Stevenson
In the last 2 chapters or so, Owen seems to really revel in his polemics and keeps tacking on opinions which run contrary to typical environmental creed. Unfortunately many of these are badly supported or not supported at all. He pretty much completely avoids the psychological implications of not living near nature. He references "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv and dismisses its thesis as nostalgic in about two sentences. Yes, we all can't live in a cabin in the woods, because we would ...more
There was enough of interest in this book to keep me reading all the way to the end, but there were a lot of annoyances along the way. The book was also poorly organized. It appears to be little more than an anthology of Owen's articles from The New Yorker. But rather than actually publishing it as an anthology, Owen tried to patch them together into one cohesive book. The result is a patchwork full of interesting digressions that are poorly melded with the central argument of the book.

The argu
Michael Potter
Originally posted to RE:Fraction International in March of 2010

Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, by David Owen, Riverhead Books, NYC, 2009, 324pp, makes a great argument for people in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York, to enjoy the innumerable benefits of one of the greatest agents of environmental change that residents of New York City have (mostly) take for granted for
Some of David Owen's points about sustainability in this book were good; cars are a huge negative in terms of carbon emission and energy/oil use, and cutting down on their use is a good thing. At the same time, Jane Jacobs' book Life and Death of the American City (which Owen quotes frequently), already covered that. I definitely agree that spreading out our population is unsustainable, and Owen puts this idea out there in an understandable fashion; as a city dweller in Philadelphia, I see how m ...more
The author raises a lot of interesting points, but it's hard to take him seriously when he doesn't back them up with alternate solutions, numbers or anything really other than complaints. This book is an ode to New York City, if it doesn't work like New York, it stinks in terms of its environmentalism. LEED stinks, cars stink (big and small, hybrid and not), houses, malls, other cities, sprawl, locavorism, widening roads, parks in the middle of a city, sidewalks that are too big. Basically nothi ...more
Anna Carlsson
Really interesting book. Granted, it mostly confirmed beliefs I've had for a while about why cities are inherently more sustainable (density being the top reason), but I also appreciated his insight into how the traditional environmentalist movement, which is more about glorifying nature than sustaining it, has actually hurt the earth. Also: we're fucked. I came away from from this feeling like the values and traditions that make our lifestyles so inherently destructive are far too entrenched to ...more
Heather Denkmire
I wish I could say I "really liked" this because I did really (really, really, really!) like learning that living in cities can be and frequently is better for the environment than living out in the country. I prefer city living (and I don't mean Portland (Maine) which I consider a large town) and "getting away" to the country. Because I was under the misconception that city living was necessarily irresponsible in an environmental way there was always a little niggling bit of shame in my prefere ...more
Michal Leah
I'm giving this book a low rating not because I didn't agree with the author's points, but because the tone of the book did not sit well with me.

The author's main point can be summed up quickly: cars = bad; urban = good; rural = bad. What follows after making these points in the initial chapter is that the author continues to make the same points for the rest of the book (and by the end the dead horse is beaten, trodden upon, beaten again, hung up for the crowd to throw rotten apples at, and on
If you're someone who's concerned about human-influenced climate change, or energy efficiency, or even urban planning, you'll definitely want to take a look at this book. It totally surprised me. I've never read another book that deals with this issue, and it is quite convincing.

The main point of the book: the most energy-efficient, low-impact way that human beings are living on this planet is not by moving out into cabins in the wood, but rather by living in highly dense metropolitan areas such
The premise of the book is that the greenest thing anyone can do is move to a dense urban environment, in the US basically NYC, where you don't drive, use much less power per capita, etc. OK, I agree (before, during, and after reading), but he says this over, and over, and over again. What he doesn't say is how we would encourage the vast majority of Americans who don't live in NYC or center city SF/DC/Boston, etc., to do so--basically give up suburbia/exurbia. I thought that that's what the boo ...more
Murali Behara
Let's imagine what his good Connecticut wifey thinks if he proposes to cancel any future vacations to any of the tropical islands, leading by example, given 'by air' is the dirtiest mode of transport ;-)

Manhattan(NYC), a compact high-rise matrix-architecture is implicitly green. Even I can imagine that it would other wise be a typical American suburban sprawl that will need probably twenty five islands of Manhattan to accommodate as many people! Yes, we Americans, whether we are foreign born or
There are a lot of things that I didn't like about this book but overall many of points raised were really interesting. It also seems like anyone could have written it having first read a dozen or so other contemporary books and magazine articles on the same topic, read some research papers, added in some personal life experiences and idle speculation- voilà. Or maybe I've just read too many of these books and they are all starting to sound the same.

A small two-person car that takes up half or
The book is very well organized (with different facets of the problem clearly contained in each chapter) and written in a clear language (a lesson Portuguese urban planners and urbanism-inclined architects should learn). The author makes well-grounded points towards breaking with (1) the counter-intuitively wrong clichés of green urban planning and (2) the praise of sprawl. Regarding the latter, even a sprawl detractor as myself has to admit that the author does not cut any slack to it (even tho ...more
Urban development and sustainability are two topics that are quite close to my heart, being a committed bike-riding, inveterate urbanite. So in some ways, I couldn't go wrong with a book from an expert extolling some of my favorite ideas about urban density, the importance of transit, and the un-sustainability of sprawl.

The whole thing, alas, is nearly ruined by the knowledge that the author, of all people, does not practice what he spends hundreds of pages preaching, and instead lives the car-
Feb 04, 2010 Kristen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think owning a Prius is all they need to do for the planet
Recommended to Kristen by: L Eaton
I was not expecting a lot from this book. I expected it to be a bit like The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City — a lot of stuff I knew already, told in a snobby, preachy tone — but Green Metropolis was an excellent examination of why cities are more environmentally sustainable than even the greenest suburbs, and how anti-city bias continues to persist among environmentalists. The chapter on the ridiculousness of LEED certifications is worth it alone.

Two things k
Recently, I picked up on the author from his most recent release, The Conundrum, and figured I would take a stab at the body of his work. From what I know of Conundrum, these seems like a precursor to the assumed narrative (from what I have pieced together on it) basically a place to refine concepts and test the waters of the critical media. To some extent the thesis for that book is presented in this work, the more we conserve the more we feel justified to grow to account for all that saving. B ...more
Fantastic read! This book really changed the way I think about sustainability, urban living and environmentalism. It also lays out the information in an easy-to-digest way. Besides being a little repetitive in some places, it was extremely well-written. The author does a good job of including both research on larger-scope issues and bit of personal experience. He contrasts his current life in suburban Connecticut with his former life in Manhattan, and he lays out all the reasons his urban life w ...more
This book was very convincing of its central point: that the greenest and hence most sustainable and environmentally friendly form of modern human habitation is New York City and specifically Manhattan. Well written and argued this book is contrarian truth telling at its best. His relentless attack on the car, fueled by cheap fossil fuels, as the agent of environmental degradation via sprawl is well thought out, cogent and convicting. Though the book is long on evaluation and demonstration of th ...more
Rebecca T Marsh
This is a very though-provoking, inspiring book. It talks about how we already have the solutions for sustainable living, and it has nothing to do with ethanol, solar panels nor battery run cars! Living close together in real urban cities is the best way to live sustainably, it's not rocket science, and humans have known how to build and live like this for most of our history. This is not the industrial era that made city-living despicable and unhealthy; today city-life is enjoyable, sustainable ...more
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“There are too many people in the world, and too many more are on the way. This is an issue that, in the United States, both conservatives and liberals have often seemed eager to avoid--for conservatives, perhaps, because it raises questions about family size, birth control, and abortion, and for liberals because it raises questions about immigration. Every one of the world's environmental problems is made worse by increases in the number of humans, and, most of all, by increases in the number of Americans, since U.S. residents--whether manufactured locally or imported from abroad--have the largest energy and carbon footprints in the world.” 1 likes
“We all tend to think of ourselves as the last unsinning inhabitants of whatever place we live in. We don't usually recognize ourselves as participants in its destruction.” 0 likes
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