walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Green Metropolis_, David Owen

Subtitled: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability

I should have loved, loved, loved this book. Instead, I'm tempted to track Owen down and give him a little what for.

First and foremost, his sources stink. Let's just say Richard Louv is quoted repeatedly and may well be a personal friend of the author on top of it. I've said enough about Louv (altho it is tempting to continue). It is _possible_ to have stinky sources and accurate information. Owen did not manage that. He bought somebody's crap about people abandoning public transit when fuel prices dropped back down again. Not true.

Second, there is the matter of what the heck does Owen mean by, well, anything, but let's start with "public transit". As that lovely book, _Car Free_ demonstrated, there is no density of population too low to benefit from some public transit option. If there are people, and they are getting around somehow other than on foot, there is probably a way to share the cost: very simple car share arrangements and demand responsive taxibuses were two of her favorites. Yet for David Owen, only places as dense as NYC or similar could support public transit. This is utterly false. If we can afford to build roads, we can afford public transit -- if we're willing to be flexible about what we _mean_ by public transit.

Third, and creepiest: Owen is trying to slam the door. Having lived in Manhattan for seven years, then moved to an aging farmhouse in the country and driving his car everywhere, he's now written a lengthy book on the topic of how everyone should move somewhere really dense, so dense that cars are too painful and expensive to own and drive, so dense that it's often faster to walk rather than bother with the subway. So dense that a significant part of any journey is by elevator. He sees that this is a problem, because he says he gets mail from people who read about his farmhouse and want to move from their California subdivision to his teeny tiny little village. And he says that he doesn't regret leaving Manhattan one little bit and has no desire to move back.

That's slamming the door. _I_ get to move to the country, but other people shouldn't. They should move where I didn't want to stay and don't want to go back.

If Owen were the kind of small town guy who rides his bike everywhere that he can't walk (he doesn't seem to), well, maybe. But when he's busy lusting after a minivan and wishing he could justify buying one, it doesn't occur to him that he could, say, arrange a local bus route and drive it himself. A little DIY demand response taxi-ing, say. I'm sure there would be legal problems, but maybe a car share? I dunno. It doesn't sound like it even occurred to him. When fuel spiked, he started working on stuff around the house to improve its fuel efficiency; when fuel dropped, he dropped the projects.

He's a curmudgeon. And not a good one. Do not waste your time and money. You can do better; it's just a matter of figuring out how.

Let me be extremely clear: I think we _should_ all be living in denser communities and walking and biking more and using public transit. I disagree with Owen that you have to live in crazy dense Manhattan to do it. A lot of people would only behave that way in that context, in much the same way that some people will only eat vegetables if they are, literally, starving to death and surrounded by nothing but veggie platters with hummous and salads, maybe some grilled veg on a stick. But a lot of the rest of us are fully capable of rearranging our lives in our current context (which, to be fair, he does a little handwave about) to drive less. Further, there's no reason we can't go back to a rail/transit based village system: ride the train to the city, walk and bike around your village. Keep the housing in the village close and walkable to shops, schools, etc.

It was a fast read, so I guess I can't be too pissed about the waste of time. But I am anyway.
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