By Rachel Roberts
With its high population, towering skyscrapers, and constant hustle and bustle, New York City would not initially seem like the most environmentally friendly city in North America. However, in reality, increasing amounts of people are beginning to recognize New York City as the nation’s most energy efficient city. This is predominantly due to its abundant use of public transportation, high density, and initiatives such as green roofs.
The key feature to New York’s incredible efficiency is how compact the city is. There are about one million buildings in just 300 square miles with a population of 8 million. To move this amount of people on a daily basis, New York has implemented one of the most efficient and heavily used mass transit systems in the country. Metropolitan New Yorkers account for about one third of all public- transit passenger miles traveled in the nation.
With public transportation being an efficient way to get around New York City, reliance on cars there is reduced. Seventy-seven percent of Manhattan households don’t even own a car, and those that do use an average of just 90 gallons of gas per year—a rate the rest of the country has yet to match since the mid-1920s!
New York’s incredible public transportation system is not the only aspect that makes New York such a green city. High population density also decreases energy and water usage. Shared walls are easier to heat, and apartment buildings force many residents to live on a much smaller scale. This reduces the consumption of a number of goods including wasteful appliances and unnecessary products and decreases the production of solid waste as well. New Yorkers have the smallest carbon footprint in the entire United States at 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases per person per year. That’s 30% less than the national average!
Mayor Bloomberg served as a powerful ally for green building advocates. Under Bloomberg, New York became one of the few cities in the nation where privately owned buildings are required to report energy and water use. This was a technique aimed at “shaming” inefficient energy users into action, and to increase the value of green and sustainable buildings. One example would be the implementation of green roofs. Instead of having black tar roofs, which absorb a ton of heat, roofs are covered in vegetation, reducing storm water runoff, and energy usage by 40% in the summer. Green walls inside also improve indoor air quality.
There is a lot to be learned from New York City. With the world’s population increasing at an unprecedented rate, it may be time to start looking to cities like New York for answers. Dense urban centers, although seemingly unsustainable, offer immense opportunities for public transportation development (reducing our reliance on cars) and an alternative to suburban sprawl. Although it may not seem like it at first, there is a lot to be learned from New York City in the realm of energy efficiency.
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