Saturday, May 31, 2008

L.A. Is Green?

Well, that's what some survey released this week says. There are, of course, some caveats and qualifications:From the air, Los Angeles hardly looks like an environmental paragon. It sprawls heroically, seeming to begin well before passengers from the east are told to fasten their seatbelts. On warm days a thin brown haze hangs over the city. Its most striking feature is its freeways—rivers flowing with glass and steel that turn red and white at night. Yet on May 29th the Brookings Institution reported that the residents of the “neon-lighted slum”, as Raymond Chandler called it, generated less carbon per person than any other metropolis in continental America.Economist.

The study's authors defended L.A.'s number two spot on the greenest cities list, noting that many of the popular conceptions about L.A. are simply wrong:
Los Angeles' spot as No. 2 in low per capita emissions brought surprise from some urban development experts who look upon the region as a poster child for sprawl, flaunting a committed car culture and low transit ridership.

But the study authors defended the rankings by saying Los Angeles is "not your parents' L.A."

"Los Angeles has changed. Over the last 10 years, we've seen that statistically Los Angeles is a surprisingly dense metropolitan area. While it lacks the impressive profile of New York, we see small lot sizes, shared walls, multifamily buildings, and the development is often master planned," said Mark Muro, policy director at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

"It's an intensely urban place. We call it dense sprawl," Muro said.
SF Chronicle.

It appears that one major reason behind L.A.'s surprising standing in the survey is our famously mild weather. We use less heating and air-conditioning than places like D.C. or Baltimore. The Economist reads a somewhat startling development prescription in the Brookings study:
These days Los Angeles is trying to improve its environmental image by encouraging developers to build blocks of flats. The Brookings report suggests this approach is wrong, or at least inadequate. The metropolis should build more bungalows rather than force families who want them to live farther inland, where temperatures are higher. There is plenty of room for more concrete on the coast. Between Orange county and the city of San Diego, for example, lies little besides tomato farms and a military base. To save the planet, fire up the bulldozers.

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