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“Cities Are Making Us More Human”

January 8, 2012

Edward Glaeser in The European:

More than 50 percent of the world’s population now live in cities – and there is no end of urbanization in sight. As opposed to the conventional wisdom, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser believes urbanization to be a solution to many unanswered problems, such as pollution, depression and a lack of creativity.

The European: As an economist, you have a very pragmatic approach to cities. Let’s begin with one of your thoughts: Cities help preserve the environment precisely because they keep people away from it.
Glaeser: That is right. It is somewhat counterintuitive but all that is leafy is not necessarily green – living around trees and living in low density areas may end being actually quite harmful for the environment, whereas living in high-rise buildings and urban core may end up being quite kind to the environment. Together with with Matthew Kahn of UCLA we looked at carbon emissions from home and transport energy use and found very significant differences, even when holding incumbent family size constant between low density and urban living.

The basic point is that people who live in densities are much less likely to drive long distances than people who live in lower densities. And people who live in urban apartments all typically use less electricity at home and less energy at home heating than people who live in larger suburban or rural homes. A single family detached house uses on average 83% more electricity than urban apartments do within the United States. [More]

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