Share Your Green Urban Story

greencity.jpgSustainLane, known for its ranking of greenest US cities, is looking for short essays on sustainable urban living. Here are a few ideas from the contest guidelines:  

  • Tell us the story about the commuter
    rail that doesn’t exist (voted down yet again). Would it run near your
    neighborhood, if it did?
  • Tell us about the successes. Does
    the city leadership have the right idea? Are there projects run by
    nonprofit organizations or businesses worth mentioning?
  • Tell us about the champions of sustainability in your city. Who’s already doing it the right way?

Essays should be 500 words. Accepted entries will be rewarded with $100 and publication on a new urban sustainability web site.

Further details and the entry form are here.

  • I love how these lists always equate sustainability with density. While density can help, it alone is far from the answer of what really makes a city sustainable.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Shishi, I looked at that list and did not find it in order of density. The densities seemed sort of scattered throughout the list, Portland is not more dense than NYC. It is, after all, a list of cities and cities are more dense than towns or villages. Suburbs are an entirely different matter. Towns and villages might be greener in hue but not as sustainable. That there is a general positive correlation between density and sustainability seems persuasive, certainly between sustainable transportation and density (you don’t have to move people as far). Maybe Wasilla Alaska is very sustainable.

  • I should have been more clear. With the exception of Chicago; NYC, Boston, and Philly are far from sustainable cities IMO. Yet, they always seem to pop up on these lists as cities to look towards as sustainable cities. They get good marks cause their density = smaller eco footprint. I would rather see an evaluation of the carry capacity of land and how much these cities need resources outside their geographic boundaries to function everday. I just feel that with a few indicators all of a sudden Certain cities become sustanable.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    So IYO what exactly does sustainable mean? Why does Chicago get a pass relative to NYC? Because it draws its water from Lake Michigan and we get ours from upstate reservoirs? NYC has to sustain not only our 8 million densely packed citizens but half of New Jersey and Connecticut as well, not to mention Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester. So by your standard a ranch in Wyoming, is more sustainable than any city simply because the carrying capacity of the land is sustainable? So dense cities cannot be sustainable because we can’t feed ourselves? Isn’t the land’s carrying capacity inversely proportional to density by your definition?

  • The relationship between a land’s carrying capacity and sustainability is tricky to grapple with. Probably the most ecologically sustainable lifestyle is that of foragers (the way all humans lived for 90% of our species’ existence until the invention of agriculture)–low population density, low technology, complete dependence on the local environment–but such a lifestyle is no longer possible at current population levels (not to mention the widespread destruction of foraging habitats for residential, agricultural, and industrial uses; loss of cultural knowledge and skills for hunting and preparing meats, and for identifying and gathering edible and safe wild plants; and near-universal dependence on domesticated plants and animals in our diets). And even foraging lifestyles can be ecologically destructive: there is evidence that early humans were responsible for the demise of megafauna in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas due to overhunting.

    Probably the next most sustainable lifestyle would the small farm or farming village that is a closed system where the population is living completely off the local land and managing its resources responsibly. Any trading with other communities would be limited to items whose manufacture does not require fossil fuel and where transportation is solely human- or animal-powered.

    The biggest problem with the suburbs and exurbs is that they consist of populations who consume vast amounts of resources per capita without replacing them. Densely-populated cities are also made up of consumers, but due to space and financial constraints, per capita consumption is lower. Less than 1% of the current U.S. population are full-time food producers (farmers). Greater amounts of local farming, lower resource consumption per capita, and greener modes of transportation (and less transportation overall) would help, but I’m not sure that the planet can be sustained at current population and resource consumption levels. Like anyone else, I’d love to be proved wrong.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Malthus would be proud of you guys. You have made my point for me. Only urban density makes possible regional agriculture. Suburban sprawl drives land values beyond the reach of farmers, sustainers and foragers (Are there any foragers left? Darfur maybe?). I find Europe very “sustainable” (though I still think it is a very poorly fleshed out word for something that is thrown around in study after study). In Italy, Germany and France the farms go right up to the apartment buildings on the edge of town, there is no buffer zone of single family homes on half acre lots full of people who drive into the city for work.

    We have long past the point of hunter gathering. Population density also makes space for industry though I guess thats unsustainable as well by your standards. Industry produces steel and wire and plastic the stuff mass transit and automobiles are made of. Horses need a lot of space to grow feed, you think ethanol drives up the price of fuel. Imagine what NYC was like when there were 15 horses on each block. Just getting rid of the carcasses was a project, check out “Dead Horse Bay” in far South Brooklyn. By what standard of sustainability was that better?

    There is really no happy medium or middle ground. Either it is hunter gathering or urban density that becomes the standard in sustainability. I liked the outdoorswoman Republican VP nominee, spent her little town’s capital resources on a hockey rink before a sewage treatment plant. Gotta love that small town America with the Big Box stores and the stop lights and the commute into Anchorage. MMMMMMMM

  • I love Germany, France, and Italy (I’ve lived in both France and Italy), and I’d move to any of those countries in a heartbeat given the right opportunity. They have a very high quality of life and a far more balanced approach to work and leisure than we do. That said, is any of those countries at present truly “sustainable”? That is, can they feed themselves, clothe themselves, and maintain their current ways and standards of living indefinitely based solely on their own national resources? Or are they heavily dependent on, say, cheap goods (foodstuffs, fuel, textiles, etc.) from China and other places in the developing world? What would happen if those cheap goods were no longer available to them, or became dramatically more costly?

    Have these countires figured out how to sustainably exploit their national resources (such as soil fertility, clean water, and forests) without degrading them?

    I agree our sustainability choices today come down to density or foraging, and foraging is no longer possible except (possibly) in dramatically limited contexts. However, I think another form of sustainable density, besides the metropolis, is the small, thickly settled farming village or town. The overall population is low, but everyone lives close together and shares common resources.

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