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Gritty Cities for a Greener World

Why city folks are greener than their country-dwelling brethren.

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Despite their images as dirty, gritty, smoggy concrete jungles, cities are good for the environment. New Scientist surveys a “wave of recent research,” concluding that if we want to reforest the earth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then massive waves of urbanization are our best bet.

The logic behind this is simple. Even if a city wreaks havoc on the land it occupies, it does so very efficiently. Cities hold over half the world’s population, but only cover 3% of its surface. Density also lends itself to energy savings overall. A recent study found that the average London resident produced half the greenhouse gas emissions of the average Brit, and that the average New Yorker produced about a third of the emissions of the average American.

But it’s more than simply the efficiencies that come with living close together. A recent paper in the journal Studies in Family Planning suggests that the mores of city living also lead to a greener existence–in this case, by reducing population growth. Urban families have always produced less children then rural ones, but a study from March found that rural women who had gone to a city and then returned to the countryside brought along with them urban family planning practices and attitudes–a knowledge of contraceptives and desire to have fewer children.

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Cities are greener not just in infrastructure, but in mindset, suggests the new wave of urbanization research.

[Image: Flickr user Storm Crypt]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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