Green Manhattan, Why New York City is the Greenest City in America

Green Manhattan, David Owen

Geography and Physical Planning

  • New York City arose on an island rather than the mainland edge, making it impossible to expand outward, and instead forcing expansion inward and upward.
  • Manhattan’s street plan was created by merchants, who were more interested in its economic efficiency rather than its physical appearance, causing residential, commercial, and cultural offerings to be closely knitted together.
  • By the early 1900s, most of the city’s lines had been drawn, making it difficult for great capitalist forces like Robert Moses, to shape the city according to the purpose and design of the automobile, the great destroyer of American life.

Manhattan’s Urban Antithesis

  • The city is difficult to get around on foot; the wide avenues are hard to cross, the traffic circles are like obstacle courses, and the empty spaces deter pedestrians.
  • The city lacks density of diverse uses; most of its buildings are relentlessly homogeneous, causing a lack of intertwining residential, commercial, and cultural offerings.
  • The city’s horizontal airy design is causing outward sprawl; because building height is limited by laws, the city expands outwards into the countryside.
  • Because of the city’s horizontal layout, public transportation has facilitated, rather than discouraged, sprawl into suburbs, where travel then requires the use of cars.

The Deceiving Nature of Low-Density Sprawl

Green Manhattan, David Owen

Population Density

Fossil Fuels

“The most devastating damage humans have done to the environment has arisen from the headless burning of fussil fuels, a category in which New Yorkers are practically prehistoric.” (David Owen, Green Manhattan)

  • Less people in cars → more people are walking or biking
  • Less people in cars → more people traveling by public transit


Tall Buildings

  • Tall buildings have less exposed exterior surface per square foot of interior space than smaller buildings, meaning their small roofs absorb less heat from the sun during cooling season, and radiate less heat from inside during heating season.
  • Tall buildings use significantly less heating fuel than suburban-type houses.

“When we lived in New York, heat escaping from our apartment helped to heat the apartment above ours; nowadays, many of the Btus produced by our brand-new, extremely efficient oil-burning furnace leak through our two-hundred-year-old roof and into the dazzling star-filled winter sky above.” (David Owen, Green Manhattan)

  • Occupants of tall buildings do most of their coming and going in elevators instead of cars, which are among the most energy efficient passengers vehicles around the world.
  • Tall buildings in Manhattan usually don’t have parking lots because the people living or working in them do not need them. In most other parts of America, big parking lots are required by law.

“If my town’s zoning regulations applied in Manhattan, 4 Times Square would have needed sixteen thousand parking spaces, one for every hundred square feet of office floor space.” (David Owen, Green Manhattan)

  • As a result, tall buildings also consume much less land than small buidlings or suburban homes.

The Environmental Impact of How We Live

Green Manhattan, David Owen

“The standard american dream, the single-family home surrounded by grass, is a mini-Monticello. It was the car that put it within our reach. But what a terrible price we have paid — and have yet to pay — for our liberation from the city.” (David Owen, Green Manhattan)




From Paris, France. International Relations and Sustainable Urban Planning.

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Jeanne Heaulme

Jeanne Heaulme

From Paris, France. International Relations and Sustainable Urban Planning.

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