Cities for the People


Today’s cities are designed for vehicles, not for people. Modern cities have an overwhelming presence of cars, and parking lots, and contain very few parks. Some cities don’t even have adequate sidewalks, or bike lanes, and lack the basics of public transportation. Modern cities are also a lot larger and have more people than they’ve ever had in the past. More than half of all people live in cities, some of which are living in megacities, with over 10 million residents. Many of these cities contain air that isn’t safe to breathe. Living in these overpopulated areas can pose serious health risks, and the constant congestion of streets cause frustration levels to skyrocket (Brown, 2009).

Cities and Global Warming

Does the current design of our cities contribute to excess CO2, and global warming? The simple answer is, yes, albeit indirectly. Cities are designed for vehicles, not for people. They are inlaid with concrete highways, ramps, bridges, and lanes, making it impractical to get around using any other means of transportation. They are congested with vehicles, and, in megacities, bumper-to-bumper traffic, raising stress levels of people living, or commuting, within their borders. The constant flow of traffic and congestion causes havoc on the environment by releasing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, helping to increase the rate in which global warming progresses. The null hypothesis is that: If cities were designed for people, instead of cars, then there would be a decline (or at least stabilization) in the current global warming rate.

Current internal combustion engines (ICE) are one of the leading causes of pollution. Some companies, such as Toyota, and Honda, are industry leaders in creating safer, and more fuel-efficient vehicles (Laszlo, 2008). Over the next 20 years, an additional 600 million vehicles are projected to enter the market, bringing the total number of vehicles to an estimated 1.5 billion. These vehicles not only release excess CO2 into the atmosphere, but they also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, and smog, which can result in health conditions such as asthma (Laszlo, 2008).

Current vehicles also cause a lot of solid waste, and water contamination, which is generated during the manufacturing process of steel, batteries, paints, plastics, and lubricants. Toyota is a leader, in not only creating more fuel-efficient cars, but also in the percentage of junk automobile parts that can be recycled (Laszlo, 2008).

Cities for the People

The first thing that needs to be done to combat global warming is to design, or redesign, cities for the people, and reduce the number of vehicles used in everyday operations. More parks and sidewalks should be created to help expedite pedestrian traffic. However, the creation of sidewalks isn’t always a straightforward solution, as many cities still struggle to provide adequate sidewalks, mainly because of budget limitations (Sustainable Cities Institute).

The second thing that needs to be implemented, is a focus on moving away from non-renewable fossil fuels that are used in vehicles. It’s estimated that there is only about two billion barrels of oil on the planet, of which, over one billion barrels have already been used (Brown, 2009). Not only do fossil fuels contribute to global warming, but they are also quickly disappearing. The reduction of fossil fuel use will help stabilize the pace of global warming, as the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere is reduced.

Public transportation methods such as busses and trains should be more abundant. This will help reduce the congestion of vehicles in cities, and, therefore, will help reduce the amount of CO2 given off by the abundance of passenger vehicles currently in use. Passenger vehicle usage could be limited to long trips or transporting heavy loads. In New York City, a MetroCard can be purchased for unlimited rides during a 30-day period, for only $104 (MTA). Public transportation, such as busses, and trains, will also help reduce the amount of congestion on the streets. Trains can even be built underground to further reduce street-level congestion.

The next thing that can be done is the development of additional bike lanes, and trails, throughout the cities, to encourage bike usage, and make it safer for bikers to travel alongside motor vehicles. Riding bicycles, or walking, opposed to driving, gives people the chance to meet in person, and strike up a conversation during their commute, as well as reducing the risks for many serious health issues (“It’s easy being green” 2008). Some colleges in Wisconsin have even implemented a program which provides bicycles, helmets, and locks, to freshmen students who agree to leave their vehicles at home. These bikes are free to keep, and help encourage students to be healthier, by riding bikes, and, also, to push students to “go green” (“Ripon college gives,” 2008). Many cities, such as Des Moines, in Iowa, have also implemented bike rental programs. They allow patrons and their children to rent bicycles for various periods of times, and also to explore the city while using these bikes. Benefits are gained for both the city, and patrons using this program (“Gray’s lake park,” 2009).

Some city governments have started attacking the problem by charging a pollution tax on vehicles that enter the city during the day. In Britain, motorists are charged a pollution tax of £25 per day, to enter the city centers. Small vehicles, as well as electric or hybrid vehicles will be omitted from paying this tax. These new laws are forcing people to “pay” for their environmental damage (Chapman, 2007).

Cities should also take advantage of unused space, or replace abandoned buildings with trees, or plants, that can help improve the air quality, as well as many other social aspects of the city. More recreational areas could be created for children, and community gardens can be developed, to help encourage community involvement in regard to the protection of the environment, and to reduce frustration levels, as well as increase social activity between city residents.

More high-rise buildings could be developed to help reduce the amount of real estate taken up by non-naturalistic structures and increase that for which these parks and community gardens could be built. The rooftops of these high-rise buildings would be great places to add additional gardens, or plants, which could further help reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (Brown, 2009).

Lastly, city police departments could implement more programs to have police officers use bicycles during their patrols, instead of squad cars. This will not only help ensure the health, and athletic ability of the police officers, but could also create a better relationship between the officers, and the local residents, as there will be more opportunity to socialize with the officers as they make their patrols. Studies have also shown that police officers on bikes, are more productive than those in squad cars. On average, they are able to arrive on scene faster and more quietly than officers in squad cars, and they make 50% more arrests per day (Brown, 2009).

Stabilizes Global Warming

Taking the steps above will help reduce the number of vehicles on the streets, and encourage other methods of transportation, whether it’s in the form of public transportation, walking, or riding bicycles, it will help stabilize global warming. As the number of vehicles on the street is reduced, there will be a reduction in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. This reduction in vehicles will help stabilize global warming in two ways: The manufacturing of these vehicles would be reduced, as the demand goes down, which would reduce the amount of pollution created during the manufacturing process, and there would be a reduction of CO2 released during the operation of these vehicles.

Eliminating, or reducing, the number of vehicles used, will reduce the amount of heat in the atmosphere, through the prevention of the Positive Feedback Loop. The Positive Feedback Loop is a “catch 22” effect, that happens when CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The Earth needs to release excess heat back into space to help cool the planet. However, when CO2 enters the atmosphere, it traps this excess heat inside. Since the planet is unable to release this heat back into space properly, the temperature of the planet will start to rise. This increase in temperature will cause glaciers to start to melt (Brown, 2009).

The loss of glaciers can be devastating to the planet, in several ways. As additional heat from the sun enters the planet’s atmosphere; excess heat, (about 70%) is reflected back into space, helping to cool the planet. However, if the atmosphere is loaded with CO2 this excess heat will become trapped, instead of being released back into space. As the planet’s temperature starts to rise from the excess heat, the glaciers will start to melt faster. As the glaciers continue to melt, at an alarming rate, more dark, open water is exposed. This dark, open water only reflects about 6% of the heat from the sun, back into space. The rest of the heat is absorbed by the water, heating the water, and, in turn, further increasing the rate in which the glaciers will melt (Brown, 2009).

This endless process will continue as long as there is an excess amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, preventing the planet from cooling properly. The design, or redesign, of cities to support other methods of transportation, therefore reducing the number of vehicles required to navigate the city, will help reduce this excess amount of CO2, and, therefore, help stabilize the rate at which the planet is warming.

The planting of trees, gardens, and more naturalistic landscapes, throughout the city will also help further reduce the amount of CO2 contained within the atmosphere. Trees of all shapes and sizes help absorb CO2; however, younger, fast-growing trees, seem to be the favorite, as they tend to absorb more CO2 than older trees. The exact type of tree to be planted will depend on the area in which the tree is located. Some tree species may perform better, in specific areas (C).

The Economics

While all of the solutions talked about throughout this essay are great alternatives, some of them are not realistically viable. The fact is, that rebuilding cities actually costs a lot more than building them correctly in the first place, and, while these might be great solutions, they do, however, cost a considerable amount of money to implement (Brown, 2009). While implementing more public transportation such as busses (or trains), might seem like a wise idea, buses are incredibly expensive. The exact cost of the busses will vary, depending on the required features. Some may have LED signs on the front, or back, that help patrons know what route the bus is taking; some may have front, and back entrances, and, others, may be handicap accessible, or have racks on the front of the bus to store patrons’ bicycles.

Diesel busses can typically cost anywhere from $300,000, to $600,000, brand new, depending on what features are installed on the bus. Natural gas busses can also be purchased, but they generally cost about $30,000 more than a diesel bus. There are also hybrid busses being released onto the market, but they can cost as much as $714,000, per bus (MacKechnie). Other costs will also have to be taken into consideration, such as developing routes for the busses to follow, panting curbs, or lanes, for busses to follow, installing bus stop signage around the city, and paying employees to drive the busses. With a rough estimate, it’s clear that adding additional busses, won’t bring any short-term profits for the city.

The costs to build and operate public trains can cost several million dollars per mile, and in some areas, it may cost as much as $2.1 billion dollars per mile (MacKechnie). Also, take into consideration the costs of operating the trains. Some trains require at least two employees to drive the train (MacKechnie). There would probably be additional need for employees to coordinate, and schedule all of the train routes, and monitor the trains as they operate to ensure that there are no accidents.

The development of trains, and busses, while being an excellent idea, is probably not viable for many of today’s cities. Not only are the costs to purchase, and develop, the new services, outrageously high, but there are also the costs of operating the services over longer periods of time, and, as with any other type of machine, the busses and trains will probably require regular maintenance in order to keep them functioning properly and safely.

Adding additional public sidewalks is, generally, a more viable solution, as the costs are dramatically less, than the development of public transportation systems. Some cities, like New York, have laws in place that require property owners to take care of, and repair, out of their own pockets, any public sidewalks adjacent to their property, or houses (DOT). The cost of a concrete sidewalk may vary greatly, but an average cost of about $23-$27 per square foot (with proper sealant applied) can be expected (Leone, 2012). While these costs might add up to a few hundred dollars per resident to replace or repair the sidewalks adjacent to their property, the cost for the city to create new sidewalks would probably be much higher. This would depend on whether the city decides to foot the bill for new sidewalks or if that bill would be broken down and divided up between the residents living where the new sidewalks were placed.

While the installation of additional sidewalks is considerably less than that of the public transportation solutions, some small cities still might find their selves unable to endure the additional costs, especially, in areas that are not heavily populated. The city of New York focuses most of its work in areas that have one-, two-, or three-family homes (DOT). The installation of these new sidewalks does prove to be a viable solution, but not across the board. Some larger cities might easily be able to endure these additional costs, while some smaller cities are left behind.

The costs of planting new trees and adding a more natural landscaping to cities isn’t something that can be easily estimated. These costs are going to vary depending on the number of trees that need to be planted, and the type of trees purchased. While some trees might survive well in one area, they may not do so well in another area (C). As an example, a Red Oak tree might cost as much as $275-$895, to purchase, depending on the size, height, and width of the tree, among other factors. However, this price also includes the cost of delivery, and planting of the tree, and an 18-month guarantee (“Tree land nursery,”). The exact costs and guarantees are, again, going to vary greatly.

The option to plant new trees is a small step but is probably viable to most cities. If more residents donate money, or help plant these trees, it may take some of the stress off of the city’s budget. Residents owning property within the city limits may also choose to purchase and plant trees, on their own accord (within their property).

By now, it should be clear that designing, or redesigning cities, can have an impact on the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere, and will, therefore, at the very least, stabilize the global warming rate. However, not all of these options are viable solutions at the current time, because they are limited to the economies of each individual city, and in some cases, the residents living within the city. It’s important that, in time, these options be implemented; however, it will probably have to be done at a rather slow pace, starting with smaller, more viable options, such as planting more trees, or creating more sidewalks.

Vehicle manufacturers also need to continue to improve the vehicles that they design, improving the gas mileage, and reducing the amount of pollution created during the manufacturing process in order to help accelerate these efforts. While it’s (probably) not possible to redesign all of the cities in any reasonable amount of time, a little effort put forth by cities, residents, and vehicle manufactures, can certainly add up, and help achieve a higher goal.

References – Cities for the People


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