This Week’s New Yorker Cover and the Future of Urban Environmentalism

August 23, 2012 § 4 Comments

Cover of New Yorker magazine 27 August 2012, artwork by Bruce McCall

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:

Times Square now – left – a pedestrian and people-friendly space. Times Square only a couple years ago – right – a car-centric space. Photos: berk2804 and midweekpost via Flickr via Streetsblog

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.)

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§ 4 Responses to This Week’s New Yorker Cover and the Future of Urban Environmentalism

  • Georgia says:

    Great post – I had not seen the cover yet. Any public appearances while in the city?

  • Nancy says:

    Perhaps I’m the only person who thinks Pasadena should close Colorado Blvd between Pasadena Avenue and Raymond to car traffic, but that is my dream. On the north of Colorado, Union is one way going west and on the south Green Street is one way going east. This is the perfect set up for closing Colorado Blvd.

  • Shelley Luce says:

    This reminds me of the Absolut Vodka ad from about 5 years ago… To me, an ad from a big corporation that pictured the LA River with grassy banks and people boating was a great sign – just what we enviros want, the big media powers putting out images that help people believe this could really happen! It’s still viewable in the Curbed LA archives:

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