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The Very Hungry City

The Very Hungry City

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Very Hungry City
    Book Description:

    As global demand for energy grows and prices rise, a city's energy consumption becomes increasingly tied to its economic viability, warns the author ofThe Very Hungry City. Austin Troy, a seasoned expert in urban environmental management, explains for general readers how a city with a high "urban energy metabolism"-that is, a city that needs large amounts of energy in order to function-will be at a competitive disadvantage in the future. He explores why cities have different energy metabolisms and discusses an array of innovative approaches to the problems of expensive energy consumption.

    Troy looks at dozens of cities and suburbs in Europe and the United States-from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, Denver to the Swedish urban redevelopment project Hammarby Sjöstad-to understand the diverse factors that affect their energy use: behavior, climate, water supply, building quality, transportation, and others. He then assesses some of the most imaginative solutions that cities have proposed, among them green building, energy-efficient neighborhoods, symbiotic infrastructure, congestion pricing, transit-oriented development, and water conservation. To conclude, the author addresses planning and policy approaches that can bring about change and transform the best ideas into real solutions.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16580-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction: Why Urban Energy Metabolism Matters
    (pp. 1-9)

    I have yet to see a place where the icons of urban energy use come together on a grander and more poetic scale than around the interchange for Interstates 5 and 210 and Highway 14 in the city of Sylmar, just outside of Los Angeles. For those who love the sight of acres of reinforced concrete and steel, this is the place to be. Here, I-5 expands to up to fifteen lanes in width to accommodate the massive amounts of traffic these interchanges generate. Running every which way around these ribbons of concrete are dozens of high-tension transmission lines supported...

  6. Part 1. Why Cities Are Hungry

    • CHAPTER 1 The 68° City
      (pp. 13-31)

      If you drive to Death Valley from the west, there’s a good chance you’ll pass by—and quickly speed through—an old, half-abandoned mining town called Trona. Its pervasive industrial odor of rotten eggs, the abundance of vacant properties, and signs of recreational arson make it a particularly uninviting locale. Even the leader of the Trona Pride Committee admitted, “Let’s face it, the place can’t get any worse.”¹ But what really strikes you about Trona is that people can actually survive in such a harsh natural environment. With its alkaline desert soils, blazing desert winds, and heat described as a...

    • INTERLUDE #1 The Big Picture on Rising Energy Prices
      (pp. 32-34)

      In 2008, a humming global economy led oil prices to reach a record of nearly $150 a barrel, translating into more than $4 per gallon at the pump. The subsequent recession brought prices back down to earth, and many analysts wrote off the price spike to a speculative blip. But the fact that prices are returning to near-2008 levels as this is being written in 2011 suggests that the fundamental supply constraints that first led to this price increase have not changed. As Jeff Rubin, the former chief economist for CIBC World Markets, writes: “Once the dust settles from the...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Very Thirsty City
      (pp. 35-55)

      Under no contingency does the natural face of Upper California appear susceptible of supporting a very large population: the country is hilly and mountainous; great dryness prevails during the summers, and occasionally excessive droughts parch up the soil for periods of 12 or 18 months. Only in the plains and valleys where streams are to be found, and even those will have to be watered by artificial irrigation, does there seem the hope of being sufficient tillable land to repay the husbandman and afford subsistence to inhabitants.”¹ So wrote Navy lieutenant Henry Augustus Wise, after spending considerable time in the...

    • INTERLUDE #2 Oil Depletion in the United States
      (pp. 56-58)

      With huge oil deposits in places like Texas and California, the United States was one of the world’s predominant exporters of oil in the early twentieth century (the first big “gusher” was located in Spindletop, Texas). Few thought that America would ever have any serious constraints on its supply. But as demand for oil surged, supply dwindled. By 1946, the United States could no longer meet its domestic demand with domestic production, turning it into a net oil importer, a situation that would only get worse over the next sixty years.¹ Although annual US production increased for many years after,...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Very Mobile City
      (pp. 59-82)

      Several years ago, if morning commuters driving into Albany on I-787 glanced eastward, they might have noticed a lone canoeist in the middle of the Hudson River. Although the pilot of the canoe was certainly having fun, his primary purpose on the river was business: he was on his way to work. That paddler was Duncan Crary, a publicity consultant, and his vehicle of choice was a seventeen-foot-long Old Town canoe. About the only similarity his morning “canute” (a commute by canoe) had with the typical American commute was that it began at a place called Starbucks—in this case...

    • INTERLUDE #3 Global Oil Depletion
      (pp. 83-88)

      Predicting the depletion curve for the United States, with its well-inventoried geological resources, is relatively straightforward. Doing so for the entire world, however, is much more complicated. At the heart of the problem is uncertainty about the extent of global resources—particularly those under water or ice. In the case of oil, while we know roughly how much has been extracted to date, huge discrepancies exist about how much remains in the ground. Estimates of remaining recoverable conventional petroleum reserves range from 870 billion to 3.2 trillion barrels. This variance is at least in part due to differences in methods...

    • CHAPTER 4 From Dirt Tracks to Interstates
      (pp. 89-114)

      Driving across the United States may not sound like much of a feat, but when Horatio Nelson Jackson, a resident of Vermont, accepted a $50 wager to prove that he could do so, people thought he was crazy. It might help to explain that this bet was made in 1903, at which time there were only 150 miles of paved road in the entire United States. In fact, only about 6 percent of the nation’s other roads were considered “improved,” the rest being little better than dirt tracks. There were no gas stations in the entire country. Fuel had to...

    • INTERLUDE #4 Tar Sands
      (pp. 115-116)

      Why does oil matter so much if it’s not the only source of energy? What about all the other fossil fuels? Can’t they take the pressure off price as oil production declines? In short, the answer is no. Oil’s role is of such vast importance in the world economy that reductions in its supply are bound to have significant effects on global energy prices in general. All the other fossil fuels have limitations and constraints that prevent them from fully occupying the gap that will be left from oil—that is, there is no “silver bullet solution.” And demand will...

    • CHAPTER 5 Transit Wars
      (pp. 117-140)

      It was July 1959, the height of the Cold War, and the big news was a two-week visit to the United States by Soviet First Deputy Premier Frol Kozlov. This severe, unglamorous, and alcoholic Kremlin functionary made news daily as he visited low-income housing to see how “the workers” lived, hobnobbed with titans of industry at swanky barbeques, sampled mayonnaise for the first time at Woolworth’s, and marveled at the low price of cotton dresses. Among the many prearranged activities for his delegation was an almost hour-and-a-half ride through New York’s IRT and BMT subways (in a scene that would...

    • INTERLUDE #5 Coal
      (pp. 141-143)

      Coal is often pointed to as a resource that will last well beyond the effective depletion of oil. Overall, there’s agreement that its production is still far from a peak. Although its solid form makes it less convenient than oil, it can be used to make electricity and can be liquefied into synthetic petroleum using the Fischer-Tropsch process, developed by German scientists between the two world wars. This method is relatively cost-effective and has been found to become economically feasible at an energy-price equivalent of sixty dollars per barrel for oil.¹

      But that’s where the good news about coal ends....

  7. Part 2. Taming the Urban Appetite

    • CHAPTER 6 The Building Energy Diet
      (pp. 147-175)

      The first thing you notice about the home of Ed Begley Jr. is just how un-Hollywood it is. At slightly under sixteen hundred square feet, it is located in a modest neighborhood of small bungalows. The second thing you notice is that it’s more than just a home—it’s a living laboratory on energy efficiency.

      You may have seen Begley in any of dozens of movies or TV shows going back to the 1970s, likeSt. Elsewhere, Arrested Development, or A Mighty Wind. But of late he’s best known as one of Hollywood’s most prominent—and principled—environmentalists. Begley is...

    • INTERLUDE #6 Natural Gas
      (pp. 176-181)

      Natural gas has been promoted by many as a cheap, clean, abundant, and domestically available fuel.

      Certainly, it has many big advantages over oil alternatives like coal and tar sands. It works not only for home heating and electricity generation but also as a fuel in vehicles with converted engines (this has been done for 20 percent of American bus fleets).¹ It is cheaper and easier to convert into a synthetic liquid fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch method than is coal. In addition, in the United States and many other countries there is an extensive infrastructure for delivering natural gas for...

    • CHAPTER 7 Smart Mobility
      (pp. 182-206)

      It’s a Monday morning in Copenhagen and I’m tearing down a street called Rolighedsvej on my clunky steel rental bike, trying to make it to a meeting to which I’m nearly certain I’ll be late. Shifting into the highest of my three gears, I pass bakeries, corner markets, small boutiques, and plenty of other bikers whose more leisurely pace indicates they aren’t late for meetings. Although they pay no attention to me, I imagine they must know I’m American by my haste. As I zip along the beautifully maintained bike lanes, it strikes me that I’ve never had a city...

    • INTERLUDE #7 Biofuels
      (pp. 207-209)

      Today, renewable sources of energy account for a relatively small percentage of all energy consumed in the United States. As of 2010, about 8 percent of all energy consumed and about 13 percent of all electricity generated came from renewables. Currently the two biggest sources of renewable energy are hydroelectric (a resource with little potential for future growth because almost all the good sites are already being used; hence it is not discussed in these interludes) and biofuels and biomass.¹ There are many good reasons why we don’t have more sources of renewable energy to choose from right now. Although...

    • CHAPTER 8 Reinventing Neighborhoods
      (pp. 210-238)

      It’s a sweltering day as I drive through Sandtown-Winchester, one of several gritty Baltimore neighborhoods portrayed inThe Wire, the hit TV series about urban decay. It’s an area I’ve been to before, but the landscape that confronts me is just as sobering as the first time I saw it: abandoned, boarded-up row houses are seemingly everywhere; vacant buildings, their window frames covered in plywood, outnumber occupied ones on most blocks; empty lots sit overgrown with weeds and the highly invasive, ironically named “tree of heaven”; retail is practically absent except for a few corner liquor stores whose windows generally...

    • INTERLUDE #8 Nuclear
      (pp. 239-243)

      Nuclear power has been talked about a lot in the political realm as a potential alternative to imported oil. It currently accounts for about 11 percent of electricity produced and about 8 percent of energy consumed in the United States. Countries lacking in fossil fuels, however, are far more dependent on nuclear power. France, for instance, gets 80 percent of its power from that source.

      Nuclear power has some big advantages over both renewables and fossil fuels. First, nothing else even remotely compares in terms of energy density. The amount of energy released from just one kilogram of uranium-235 undergoing...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Very Regional City
      (pp. 244-268)

      One of the earliest writers to describe the trend of suburbanization in America was Lewis Mumford. In 1925, just as this phenomenon was in its earliest stages, he released a short essay entitled “The Fourth Migration,” in which he contextualized the growth of the suburbs relative to three previous technology-driven migrations: pioneers settling the continent; resettlement from farms to factory towns; and the move to large metropolitan areas.¹ Mumford saw the move to the suburbs as a tremendous opportunity for American society. According to his vision, shared by many of his colleagues in the now defunct Regional Planning Association of...

    • INTERLUDE #9 Renewable Energy Generation
      (pp. 269-276)

      Solar- and wind-generation technologies have enormous potential to provide clean, decentralized, and sustainable energy. And if you watch advertisements during the evening news, you’d think the whole country is running on them. But their ubiquity in the media is far out of proportion to their actual use.

      As of early 2011, wind accounted for 2.8 percent and solar (photovoltaic and thermal) for 0.02 percent of all US electricity generated. There is little doubt that both power sources will come to account for a far larger share of the energy mix in the future. Already, the signs are very encouraging. For...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Very Efficient City
      (pp. 277-296)

      It’s the day after Thanksgiving as I start writing this final chapter and, like most Americans, I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful for—a great family, a wonderful community, a full pantry … and the list goes on.

      I wouldn’t actually say this at the dinner table, but I’m also thankful for cheap energy.

      Everyone should be. Without the wealth of energy from fossil fuel, our guests wouldn’t have been able to make the ten-mile trek to our Thanksgiving dinner; we wouldn’t have California pecans for the pecan pie or the bottle of Cabernet Franc from France;...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 297-336)
  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 337-354)
  10. Index
    (pp. 355-366)