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

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  1,013 Ratings  ·  164 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, 368 pages
Published (first published 2009)
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Nov 13, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 17, 2011 Ben rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 02, 2010 Shira rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
There is a really good 10,000 word article here, but unfortunately rather than sell that to The Atlantic, the author chose to expand it into a book. The result is painfully repetitive, despite my general agreement with his basic ideas--cars are environmentally terrible, people are fundamentally motivated not by platitudes but by their own comfort/discomfort, zoning as currently practiced in the U.S. makes everyone's life worse, LEED is a mess, and density is the only true route to sustainability ...more
Dec 07, 2010 Jocelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-booklist
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
Jan 14, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 30, 2015 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2010 Keith rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2012 Michael Potter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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
Oct 31, 2012 Alisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 02, 2014 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 15, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 07, 2012 Anna Carlsson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 17, 2013 Jennyb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urbs-aeterna
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-
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
Miriam Williams
May 04, 2017 Miriam Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decent book talking about how high density living is inherently more sustainable than suburbia -- pretty obvious point but apparently one that needs saying.

The final chapter has some unfortunate observations on Beijing traffic though. Visiting the city once does not make you an expert on Chinese attitudes to cars!
Jun 30, 2012 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephen by: StrongTowns
Green is probably not the word that comes to mind at the mention of Manhattan, but to David Owen, few places on Earth are as environmentally friendly as the heart of New York City. Its towering skyscrapers and elevated train lines are in fact the very image of verdant. Such a contention is at the heart of Owen’s surprising take on sustainability and environmentalism, his approach as practical as it is counter-intuitive. Owen uses the lens of economy to reveal weaknesses of conventional environme ...more
May 20, 2014 Lucas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, urban
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
Mar 09, 2017 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were some good points in here. However, the author repeats himself over and over. This book could have been half the length and had the same effect. He also has a very poor excuse for his lifestyle, which goes against everything he argues for in the book
I think I was expecting a slightly different book than what I got. The synopsis as I understood it was that he'd explain why compact cities are actually the ideal form of ecological living. Manhattan is his heaven - mainly because apartments are thermally efficient and don't take a lot of space, it's easy to live and commute without cars, and lots of people take advantage of things that pollute in efficient ways. The suburbs and rural areas, to him, are terrible because you're required to drive ...more
Mar 07, 2016 Leif rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strongly mixed feelings about this book, but I'm very glad I read it: Owen is the type of critic who will lead you in precisely the opposite direction to received wisdom in almost every discussion, until you realize that it's not contrarianism but simply a discontent with orthodox practices as failing the initial goals that, ostensibly, form the common basis of care. Whether you appreciate his criticisms of environmentalism, sustainability, and urban policy depends in large part on how charitabl ...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
Jul 24, 2011 Gunnari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-books
An exceptionally interesting read for those looking towards sustainability and green living. Given the nature of the subject matter, I was pleasantly surprised at just how easily the topics flowed. David Owen has a very personable and easy going writing style that was easy to enjoy. It was quite apparent how much he cared about the subject given how opinionated he was about certain topics, especially the LEED standard.

This book helped to illustrate to me that while a city looks like it is excep
Jul 14, 2012 Guðmundur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bókin fjallar um það hvernig þéttbyggðar borgir eru með umhverfisvænustu byggðu svæðum á jörðinni. David Owen talar um þá alda gömlu mýtu að borgir séu uppsprettur alls ills og að hún byggi á úreltri hugsun þegar hreinlæti var ábótavant og allur iðnaður fór fram í borgum.

Þegar við hugsum hinsvegar dæmið til enda þá býr fólk minna í borgum en á dreifbýlum stöðum, í borgum eru almenningssamgöngur raunsær kostur og fólk mun líklegra til að labba eða hjóla. Owen talar um það þegar hann flutti frá Ma
Green Metropolis is written by a guy who admittedly does not live that greenly. He has a big house with a big garage and lots of storage space out in the country, and drives to the post office which is barely a mile away. His basic premise, based on the fact that oil is not going to last us that much longer, is that living more densely, and therefore driving less, is the way to save the environment. Especially: anything that makes driving less pleasurable is eco-friendly, and anything that makes ...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
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