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Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability [Kindle Edition]

David Owen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

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, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan- the most densely populated place in North America -rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn't matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation. These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn't reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world's nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While the conventional wisdom condemns it as an environmental nightmare, Manhattan is by far the greenest place in America, argues this stimulating eco-urbanist manifesto. According to Owen (Sheetrock and Shellac), staff writer at the New Yorker, New York City is a model of sustainability: its extreme density and compactness—and horrifically congested traffic—encourage a carfree lifestyle centered on walking and public transit; its massive apartment buildings use the heat escaping from one dwelling to warm the ones adjoining it; as a result, he notes, New Yorkers' per capita greenhouse gas emissions are less than a third of the average American's. The author attacks the powerful anti-urban bias of American environmentalists like Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins, whose rurally situated, auto-dependent Rocky Mountain Institute he paints as an ecological disaster area. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Owen's cool, understated and witty; it does not appear to be in his nature to be alarmist. But this is a thoroughly alarming book." ---The Washington Post

Product Details

  • File Size: 505 KB
  • Print Length: 372 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594484848
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (September 17, 2009)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002N83HJS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,668 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
You have to read this book carefully, since at first glance it reads like a gigantic love letter to New York City, with the heart in "I (heart) NY" recolored green. And if you do read it that way, you're going to miss the point of what the author is saying.

The problem with green thinking is that there's a whole heck of a lot of self-delusion going on, and when it comes to urban planning, David Owen has done a lot of looking into it, pointing out that at the end of the day, a lot of "green" purchases and behaviors are attempts to rationalize consumption without actually reducing it. Along the way, he steps on the toes of the great pastoral myth of environmentalism by showing how anti-city bias in conservation thinking has often served to promote the very urban sprawl it's supposed to be fighting. And Owen is hardly a global warming denialist or ecology "skeptic" either -- in fact, the primary focus of the book is on managing carbon footprints and just how poorly that's done.

Owen's dirty little secret is something urban planners and ecological experts have been promoting for years with little heed from the general public -- that the density of cities like New York is key to creating a low-consumption environment, since distances between home, work, and other activities are relatively small and therefore cars are generally unnecessary. Owen looks at carbon footprint in per capita terms, showing how the average New Yorker uses something like one third of the total oil consumption of a rural Vermonter, and points out the absurdity of building a "green" corporate campus (his prime example being Sprint/Nextel's in Kansas) so far away from a city that virtually all employees have to drive to work.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Live Simply, so that Others Might Live August 19, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This was a pleasant surprise.
When I read the first chapter of Green Metropolis, I was worried that my fears about this book might be confirmed. After all, the blurb says that the author is going to reveal how New York City is more sustainable than Snowmass, Colorado or Burlington, Vermont. Hmm, I thought, there's not much to that. People in NYC don't drive cars, they live on top and side-by-side of each other (so they share heating costs), and they have great transit. Why should any readers find it surprising that NYC is so sustainable?

I was kind of impatient, I suppose. I remember sitting in a hotel near the campus of Sprint, on about 110th St and Metcalf in Kansas City, Missouri (a national epicenter of sprawl!) and telling my sister that its not enough to say NYC is the ideal for sustainability. You can't turn this into Greenwich Village, right? In other words, that kind of insight is lacking because it offers no value for what policy should do about the problem of sprawl.

Moreover, I thought, why is David Owen singing the praises of NYC, when he moved from there to rural Northwestern Connecticut?

Owen must have known that, because this book seems to understand that its not enough to laud NYC. What this book does it go step-by-step through many of planning's existing antidotes to sprawl and reveal their limitations. This is a book about challenging the assumptions that govern current sustainability policy.

The problem, he says, is that New York was built not by policy makers with the right vision, but by lucky timing. It was good timing because most of the city was laid out before the car.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars...with Flaws December 11, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Green Metropolis is an excellent thought provoking book and vividly highlights the disconnect between what the community perceives as being "green" and what truly is. I'll give this book 5 stars but would like to mention a few shortcomings.
I thought his criticisms of Central Park and Park Avenue were completely off the mark, dead wrong. One of biggest issues that, to my mind, haunts the thesis of this book is how to make dense urban living palatable and even desirable for a range of classes of people. Central Park was conceived at the very same time that New York was beginning to "experiment" with the large apartment building. Buildings such as the Dakota (1880) were designed specifically to lure well heeled city dwellers away from single family homes (townhouses) and into denser multi-story buildings with luxury space and services. (sound familiar?) Over the next 50 years many more even larger apartment buildings were built on both sides of the Park which was one of the most important ingredients in creating a DESIRABLE dense neighborhood. Far from being a built "criticism" of the dense city (as Owen may perceive it) Central Park was an enabler of density. As wonderful as Jane Jacobs' Greenwich Village of the 40's was, most "upper east side" types probably didn't want to live there then, and they certainly didn't in 1908.
Similar points can be made about Park Avenue. I assume he is referring to that portion of Park Avenue above Grand Central Terminal. This urban boulevard was conceived as cure for the urban blight of the Harlem and New York Railroad tracks (it covered the tracks) as well as an armature for dense luxury apartment building development on both sides.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Living in a city with a good mass transit
At one time the author lived in NYC and that's what he talks about. Living in a city with a good mass transit, walkable conditions, and almost everything you need except a car. Read more
Published 5 months ago by mark yuschak
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythbuster - for myths you didn't know were myths
A great book that breaks down the common beliefs—myths, really—of Priuses and environmental trends. Can solar power really save us? Read more
Published 6 months ago by t0wnp1ann3r
4.0 out of 5 stars Some shortcomings, but well worth the read over all
Sometimes in the pursuit of sustainability we need to hold a mirror up to our efforts and recognize the ways in which inconsistencies and whims lead to outcomes that are not what... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Francis Vanek
5.0 out of 5 stars Green Metropolis: Required Reading
That we're literally and figuratively "running out of gas," is not news. But David Owen's thorough coverage, use of data, and often surprising perspectives are news. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jay Lubinsky
4.0 out of 5 stars A Cheerful Gift
Gave as a gift. Assume everything was okay. No complaints. Wish I had the option of limiting future recommendations just to items I buy and ship to myself.
Published 12 months ago by Gifts That Keep on Truckin'
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, if a bit repetitive.
After the first couple of chapters it's kind of like, "I get it... New York rules." but his writing style is quick and easy to read, as well as entertaining. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Leeann
5.0 out of 5 stars You are not your car. You are not your car.
If you don't mind other people and you enjoy public life, read this book. If you love your car and your McMansion more than anything else, don't read this book. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Karla Guererri
5.0 out of 5 stars really thoughtful book
really interesting viewpoint, I couldn't put it down and it made me think of an entirely different way of attempting to save our planet
Published 20 months ago by Dorothy Hirlston
5.0 out of 5 stars great perspective
This book totally altered my perspective of sustainability. I love the stuff about LEED brain and greenwashing. Read more
Published 22 months ago by RDW
5.0 out of 5 stars What Environmentalists Should be Fighting For
New York City is the most environmentally friendly city in the country. Anything we can do to make other cities more like New York City or increase density within New York City so... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Jesse Rorabaugh
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More About the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a contributing editor of Golf Digest, and he is the author of a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman. Learn more at or (if you're a golfer) at


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Question about density and housing cost
I don't think that's universal -- in cities like New York or San Francisco, where (assuming one enjoys city life) the quality of living is phenomenal for those who can afford it, demand will always outweigh supply and affordable neighborhoods will gentrify over time. On the other hand, there are... Read More
Nov 29, 2009 by Aaron Silverman |  See all 4 posts
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