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'The Most Sustainable Trip Is the One You Never Had to Take'

Green living advice from Alex Steffen and other leading thinkers on urbanism and sustainability

walkable neighborhood, Burbank, CA (by: La Citta Vita, creative commons license)

The quote in today's title comes from Alex Steffen, or more accurately from Steffen as presented in a terrific article on Treehugger by Lloyd Alter, summarizing a number of provocative thoughts about cities by various commentators, including yours truly.

I'm a little biased because Lloyd was kind enough to include me in his summary, and because as we have followed each other's work over the past couple of years we have become friends. But I am honored to be in the company he quotes, including not just Steffen, the longtime editor of WorldChanging, but also Peter Calthorpe, Steve Mouzon, Andres Duany, Ken Greenberg, Lloyd himself, and the man one of my friends calls a "raver," Jim Kunstler.

Steffen gives a fantastic short TED talk in the video below, emphasizing that we can't just think of getting control of climate change through more sustainable energy generation; it's also about designing the places we live so that the demand side of the equation -- including of course transportation -- functions more sustainably.

Here are a few other tidbits from Lloyd's article:

bicycling in Lucca, Italy (c2011 FK Benfield)

  • Calthorpe: "In many climates a party wall is more cost effective than a solar collector in reducing a home's energy needs. Well-placed windows and high ceilings offer better lighting than efficient fluorescents in the office. A walk or bike ride is certainly less expensive and is less carbon intensive than a hybrid car even at 50 mpg... A combination of urbanism and green technology will be necessary, but the efficiency of urbanism should precede the costs of alternative technologies."
  • Mouzon: "Live where you can walk to the grocery; Live where you can make a living; Choose smaller stuff with double duty."
  • Greenberg: "The unhealthy consequences of a sedentary, car-dependent lifestyle are clear. Driving to the gym or health club is no substitute for walking as part of a daily routine."
  • historic home, Lynchburg, VA (c2011 FK Benfield)
  • Alter: "I think there is yet another form of urbanism: Heritage Urbanism, where we restore the urban fabric and rebuild our communities to work the way they used to. Where we learn from those who designed them before there was oil, about how to live after oil."
  • Duany: "Don't make apartment dwellers install solar power. They are doing their part just by living densely and driving less."
  • Kunstler: "While I'd agree that tight, dense, and walkable urbanism is crucial for our future happiness, it's a tragic error to suppose that stacking people in skyscrapers is necessary to achieve this. Most of central Paris is under six stories and nobody complains about a lack of cosmopolitan verve there. The infatuation with skyscrapers is just another facet of the technological grandiosity that pervades American culture these days--the dangerous idea that we are unbounded by limits."

For the detail, as well as my own quotes, you'll just have to read Lloyd's article, which you should anyway. And do enjoy Alex Steffen's 10-minute talk, which is just as appealing in style as it is astute in substance:



This post also appears on NRDC's Switchboard.
Images: La Citta Vita and Kaid Benfield

Presented by

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.

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