This Week’s New Yorker Cover and the Future of Urban Environmentalism
August 23, 2012 § 4 Comments
This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, dated August 27th 2012, depicts a lush green Manhattan. It’s Times Square; there are tall buildings, green roofs, a waterfall, a river, grazing buffalo, a canoe, a horse, people sitting around. To me, it kind of looks kind of like paradise – a city in harmony with nature.
A closer look at the large electronic billboard signs reveals tongue-in-cheek stereotypical Things Environmentalists Like including: KALE CITY, TEMPEH SEITAN, and RECYCLE Bicycles Tricycles Icicles HERE. So I think the intent of the artist is to poke fun at New York City trying to see itself as environmentally friendly – as if that’s not the case.
This all reminds me of a long L.A. Creek Freak post I wrote back in 2010. If you’re up for a long read, grab a cup of coffee and go read Questions on Anti-Urban Biases in Environmentalist Thinking. My piece mostly draws from David Owen’s book Green Metropolis (which I definitely recommend reading.) Owen asserts, rightly so I think, that New York City is far and away the most environmentally friendly city in the United States. This is because New Yorkers walk/bike/ride transit at high levels, live in small places close together, hence the city doesn’t sprawl and consume huge swaths of land – the way less-dense cities do. Based on energy and resource consumption, New York City’s per capita environmental footprint is very healthy. New Yorkers’ lives contribute much less air and water pollution (including greenhouse gases) than the rest of the country. That’s the really short version – read the full earlier post here.
Maybe I am over-interpreting… but I think that the slightly-mocking tone of the cover is misplaced. Maybe we environmentalists can’t take a joke… but I think that the cover really shows what cities should be like – and hopefully will be like in the future.
One more note on what’s not in that image on the cover; there are no cars!
In recent years, NYC has made great strides towards making it safer and more convenient to ride transit, walk, or bike. Here are before and after pictures of Times Square:
When we don’t give so much of our cities over to cars, we have space to make them healthy – in terms of creeks, rivers, humans. I think for Los Angeles to daylight our buried creeks, for us to heal the Los Angeles River, we’re going to need to re-tool our city to dramatically less car-centric.
(Next week, I am actually heading out to vacation in NYC. I am looking forward to riding transit, walking, and bicycling to explore some of these spaces – and maybe to bring back ideas on what L.A.’s future might look like.)