Thursday, 3 November 2011

Why the Urban Jungle is Greener

I recently read an article about how, for the first time in decades, the amount of material "stuff" consumed per capita in Great Britain has fallen over the past ten years. One of the reasons which was suggested for this was that more and more people are living in towns and cities.

While at first it might be counter-intuitive to say that urban living is more environmentally friendly than a rural idyll, it actually makes sense. Living in close contact means that you can share resources with more people. An obvious example would be public transport. Unpleasant as it may be for those involved, cramming a hundred people shoulder to shoulder in a train carriage is far more economical than each of these people driving their own car. Another is living in an apartment block. In terms of heating, postal deliveries and refuse collection (to name but a few), having everyone close together makes whole systems vastly more efficient.

The downside, of course, is that when personal space can be measured in millimetres rather than kilometres, a much higher degree of patience, tolerance and consideration is required. Country people often have the reputation of being friendlier than city-dwellers, but I suspect this is only because human contact is a luxury for them and not an imposition. While in the country reaching out to others is not only polite, but can be essential, in a large, cramped city, the best courtesy you can offer your neighbour is not to wake him up too early in the morning or jostle him on the metro.

This evening, as I queued patiently for the privilege of walking up the stairs to the exit of the RER station*, I reflected on all of the above and glowed with a sense of economical and environmental virtue.

* Incidentally, what is it with all these people who stand still on the escalators in the metro and the RER? Are they really so lazy that, even with an enormous queue behind them and a perfectly functional pair of legs, they actually prefer to spend a larger part of their day than is strictly necessary in the corridors of the Paris public transport system? And as for the people that stand on the left and stop everyone else from walking up, perhaps I can now accuse them of social and environmental misdemeanour, as opposed to just driving me nuts...

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