Are tall buildings the way to achieve needed density? David Owen & Sam Sullivan argue yes.
Last night, at Vancouver’s Playhouse theatre, staff writer at the New Yorker Magazine, density advocate and contributing editor of Golf Digest, David Owen presented his argument that Manhattan, with its dense urban form, is the Greenest City in North America.
Following introductory remarks by former Vancouver Mayor and eco-density pioneer Sam Sullivan, Mr. Owen’s talk was largely a retread of his recently published book, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability (Riverhead, 2009) and 2004 New Yorker article Green Manhattan Everywhere should be more like New York. Owen offered evidence that New York Style urban development – vertical, dense and massively scaled – is becoming an environmental necessity. Mr. Owen’s points included:
- The increasing cost of energy will force all those but the very wealthy to live in compact walkable urban environments (he himself lives in rural Connecticut).
- Urban residents use far less energy than their rural counterparts and are less reliant on the automobile.
- Densely populated cities make public transit more viable.
- The 100 mile diet (local food) is part of a ‘luxury consumption’ trend that typifies the futile of efforts many western environmentalists.
- Technological innovation ends up exacerbating environmental problems by making formerly luxury and energy intensive products (e.g. iPad) and services (e.g. air travel) widely available to all socio-economic groups.
Mr. Owen’s message, closely follows that of local density advocate Sam Sullivan.
Following the presentation Mr. Sullivan lamented not being given the authority during his time in office, to allow developers to build ever higher buildings in Vancouver (which he says would provide housing for both families and the poor). (As a side note, Sam Sullivan’s colleague out at UBC, Patrick Condon, has made some excellent arguments about the possibility of achieving increased density with low to mid-rise development – thus avoiding the run-to-tower option presented here).
Owen is not without his detractors, James Howard Kunstler amongst them, who view massively scaled condo towers, such as those found in ever greater abundance in Vancouver, as one-generation buildings, ultimately destined for redundancy with little possibility of re-purposing or redevelopment upon their decline.
There are several pointed arguments here and we’re interested to know what people think of the various theses that are contained in Owen’s arguments. Feel free to weigh in!
– Post by JT