"If You Want to Save the Planet, Move to New York"


Photo credit: joiseyshowaa via Flickr/CC BY-SA

Cities are the future. More than 50% of the globe's population now lives in urban areas. By 2050, 70% will. In China, the most populous nation in the world, 120 cities have over 1 million residents. Some have over 20 million. This trend grants us some fantastic opportunities in improving worldwide sustainability, mostly because the population density of cities makes them more inherently efficient. Which is why Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of New York City's Department of Transportation, proclaimed yesterday: "If you want to save the planet, move to New York."

She was speaking figuratively, of course: Any well-developed city with ample public transportation and livable, walkable communities will do. Sadik-Khan made the remarks at a panel discussion at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative, which also included such green city luminaries as Gavin Newsom, San Fancisco's erstwhile mayor. You can watch the entire talk here (it picks up about 25 minutes in):

Watch live streaming video from cgi_plenary at livestream.com

Newsom was enthused about the prospect of mass urbanization, too. He noted that we're in the midst of the dawn of the megacity, and that cities are "our fate and our future." And that's a good thing. "Cities are laboratories of innovation. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in cities," he said.

The ex-bright green mayor was in fine form; he extolled the trend of expanding cities as a huge opportunity, and rattled off the ways in which they're getting cleaner and more efficient. He mentioned integrated traffic systems and his composting initiative. He discussed how the private sector is embracing technology that improves and greens cities: "Cisco is betting the farm on connected cities. IBM on 'smart' cities."

Newsom even quipped that the congestion pricing plan that Sadik-Khan and the New York City Council had pushed for was a "successful failure", since San Francisco eventually adopted a variation of the plan.

Sadik-Khan agreed with much of what Newsom had to say.

"Cities are incubators of innovation. I think we need to do more to adapt our federal and state policies" so they better support cities. Cities, after all, are most often a nation or state's primary economic drivers.

Whether or not we can mete out a path towards a sustainable future will hinge largely on how effectively we adapt our growing cities to be clean, efficient, and above all, livable. Forward-looking public officials like Newsom and Sadik-Khan are working to ensure the policies we adopt today will help us meet that future -- and they need our support.

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