Density scales, sprawl doesn’t,” journalist David Owen told the crowd at the Architectural Record/GreenSource eighth annual Innovation Conference on Friday morning. A New Yorker staff writer, Owen explained that a Vermonter who raises chickens, composts, buys local, and rarely drives her Prius is green, but not nearly as green as most Manhattanites, who live really close to each other – this is the premise of Owen’s 2009 book “Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability,” and most of his talk. Manhattan - despite its weird smells, concrete, congestion, and subway riders who don’t stick to their dance space - is actually a utopian environmental community. Here are some other notes from Owen:

  • Manhattanites use an average of 90 gallons of gas a year – not the norm, on a country-wide average, since the 1920s.
  • 82% of Manhattanites walk, bike, or take public transportation to work.
  • They have the smallest carbon footprint in the U.S.
  • It’s the population density in Manhattan – 67,000 people per square mile – that makes it green. The amount of people in Manhattan, spread out as much as people are in Vermont, would require the square miles of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia put together.
  • People typically ask what they can purchase in order to conserve energy. Owen says, “We’re good at repackaging luxury goods as gifts to humanity.” What we should be doing is reducing consumption.
  • And finally, one of the great things about most Manhattanites’ green-ness is how unconscious it is. According to Owen, this is the best kind – no enforcement necessary.
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