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Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability Hardcover – September 17, 2009

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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 --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (September 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594488825
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488825
  • ASIN: 1594488827
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Brian Connors VINE VOICE on July 30, 2009
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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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rust VINE VOICE on 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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joseph C. Huether on 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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