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The Environmental Advantages of Cities
Conventional wisdom about the environmental impact of cities holds that urbanization and environmental quality are necessarily at odds. Cities are seen to be sites of ecological disruption, consuming a disproportionate share of natural resources, producing high levels of pollution, and concentrating harmful emissions precisely where the population is most concentrated. Cities appear to be particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, to be inherently at risk from outbreaks of infectious diseases, and even to offer dysfunctional and unnatural settings for human life. In this book, William Meyer tests these widely held beliefs against the evidence.
Borrowing some useful terminology from the public health literature, Meyer weighs instances of “urban penalty” against those of “urban advantage.” He finds that many supposed urban environmental penalties are illusory, based on commonsense preconceptions and not on solid evidence. In fact, greater degrees of “urbanness” often offer advantages rather than penalties. The characteristic compactness of cities, for example, lessens the pressure on ecological systems and enables resource consumption to be more efficient. On the whole, Meyer reports, cities offer greater safety from environmental hazards (geophysical, technological, and biological) than more dispersed settlement does. In fact, the city-defining characteristics widely supposed to result in environmental penalties do much to account for cities’ environmental advantages.
As of 2008 (according to U.N. statistics), more people live in cities than in rural areas. Meyer’s analysis clarifies the effects of such a profound shift, covering a full range of environmental issues in urban settings.
About the Author
William B. Meyer is Associate Professor of Geography at Colgate University. He is the author of Americans and Their Weather: A History and Human Impact on the Earth.
“William Meyer concisely and engagingly demolishes the persistent popular misconception that cities are bad for people and the environment. Adjusting for wealth and population density, he shows that the town beats the country on almost all indicators of environment and pollution, resource consumption, and human health and well-being. This is a must-read for friends and foes of the city alike.”
—Steve Rayner, James Martin Professor and Director of the Program for the Future of Cities, Oxford University
“William Meyer has amassed an impressive critique of the commonsense notion of an urban penalty. He marshals this considerable evidence into a persuasive argument that exposes the fallacies in the popular view and showcases the efficiencies and environmental benefits offered by city living. This work is vitally important reading for those interested in the future of urban life.”
—Craig E. Colten, Carl O. Sauer Professor, Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University
“This book is a significant contribution to the field of urban studies. It will be valuable for researchers in many diverse fields, including planning, geography, sociology, and history. It will also be a book that policy makers should read because it dismantles a number of the arguments that are being used to slow the movement of people to cities.”
—Timothy Crimmins, Director of the Center for Neighborhood and Metropolitan Studies, Georgia State University