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  • 07.15.08

Green Wave: Where We Live Effects How We Live

Having been a Bostonian for the past six years, and a native Massachusetts resident for life, I cannot help but notice the increase of people wearing green in the past few weeks. One group of teenagers went careening through an intersection waving their hats and shouting, “Go Celtics!” to the people waiting to cross the street and beeping their horn. People standing nearby cheered and pumped their fists in the air. Beyond the Celtics winning the NBA Championship, there is another green wave hitting the streets. We are all aware that the way we live effects how green we are.

Having been a Bostonian for the past six years, and a native
Massachusetts resident for life, I cannot help but notice the increase
of people wearing green in the past few weeks. One group of teenagers
went careening through an intersection waving their hats and shouting,
“Go Celtics!” to the people waiting to cross the street and beeping
their horn. People standing nearby cheered and pumped their fists in
the air. Beyond the Celtics winning the NBA Championship, there is
another green wave hitting the streets. We are all aware that the way we live effects how green we are. What Americans are only now beginning to seriously contemplate is that where we live effects how green we are.

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In Los Angeles, where I’m sure green shirts
and hats are banned for at least another few months, a green monsoon is
ready to break through the skies. Maybe I should say, ‘Especially in
LA’, where people are no stranger to the frequent brown-outs or
occasional black-outs as an effect of over-consumption of energy. The
dependency upon cars is also astounding in this city. The freeways
stretch from the suburbs into the center of the city, meeting in a
messy knot of overlapping off-ramps. The reason for the need for
automobiles is simple: LA was built with the idea that you could drive
in and out of the city and park at each building. Each building is
surrounded by parking lots. The density of the city is greatly affected
by the fact that each single building has a huge buffer for parking
around it. Because buildings are so far apart, it is not feasible to
walk or bike around. Walking across fields of asphalt in 90 + degree
weather is like trying to exercise in a sauna. The population of
LA has occupied an area many times larger than it should, and as a
result, is working overtime to cure symptoms like 3 hour commutes to
work… each way.

 

One way we can choose to greatly reduce our
carbon footprint is to assess our daily commuting patterns and amount
of land we consume. Studies have shown that people living in the city
drive less than people who live in the suburbs. What’s even more
interesting is that the more near the center of the city one lives, the
less they drive. When I am visiting my parents, we drive to grocery
store, the video rental store, restaurants, to get coffee, etc. It is
not feasible to walk to any of those locations because it would take
over an hour (and over 2 in some cases) to walk there and back. When I
am at home, I walk to all of those locations with an occasional car
trip to a superstore. The truth is that people who live far from the
center of a city take an average of four times more car trips than
those that live in the city. Their carbon footprint is also up to five
times greater.

 

If you live in the… you produce use an average of this many BTUs/yr…

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Suburbs 200-250

Suburbs with green living standards 150

Urban area 100

Urban area with green living standards 50

 

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BTUs are British Thermal Units is a unit of
energy used in the power, steam generation, and heating and air
conditioning industries.

 

These differences are mostly due to the
typical dwelling type of suburban and urban dwellers: the single-family
detached home of the suburbs vs. the apartment. While single-families
have to fend for themselves when it comes to heating and cooling, some
of that effort is shared in a large apartment building, where hot air
from the first floor can rise to help heat the above stories. The
square footage of homes in the city are smaller per person, too,
allowing the amount of energy used to heat and cool the space a person
occupies to be substantially less than in the suburbs.

 

Not all hope is lost. In the past decade, land
consumption has gone down 50%. Even still, the amount of land per
person in the suburbs is far greater than in the city. One city
person’s lifestyle effects only a small fraction of the land a suburban
person effects.

 

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All the while, American’s health and diet
issues become of greater importance. The urban community sees far more
activities like biking and walking to get to and from their daily
destinations. As our recreational and mandatory activities become far
more sedentary (watching television, working at a computer) we should
reassess the situations we put ourselves in. If it is easier to walk to
the grocery than drive and fight for parking on the street, we are more
likely to choose to walk. If it is impossible to walk or just as easy
to drive, we are more likely to choose to drive, based on our processes
of finding the path of least resistance. But city living is not only
about being forced to walk places. It is becoming more and more each
day about enjoying the stroll through a nicely lit, café lined street
in the evening, meeting people, community events and gatherings. Once
cities were a great place to live… then they weren’t (industrial
revolution)… but they are once again returning to the ways of the past:
a strong sense of community with street-life culture that promotes a
sustainable way of life.

 

The type of model LA followed when undergoing
rapid development did not consider the walkability of the city. Heck,
LA had only 3530 people in 1850 and in 158 years grew to a population
of 1 million! I’m not sure growth like that could have been
anticipated. Today, only 11% of LA commuters use public transit, in
comparison to 53% in NYC. When buildings become strictly for one use
(such as office, commercial, residential) they put a stress on the
surrounding area to travel to get to it. By incorporating multi-use
buildings, people can live, work and play in the same area. Our world
that has become one that embraces traveling for work, vacations,
weekend trips, family visits or even a night out on the town is
becoming one that actually discourages the need to go the distance for
such things. Cities need to review their structure and plan for better
transportation options and revitalization/densification of certain
areas in need of a cultural, social, and economic boost. The same
methods can and should be applied to towns, even small ones. Are you
involved in your town committies that review these options? If you can
think of one part of town that has the potential to do more, maybe
bringing street life back with multi-use facilities and safely lit
sidewalks could do more than you hoped: revitalizing burnt-out
economies and cutting neighborhood carbon footprints.

 

STAY GREEN OR GO GREEN!

~SUZY

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