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Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Economics, Sustainability and the Future of Urbanism

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It's official: Urban dwellings provide more sustainable and economical living spaces -- not to mention better access to social opportunities -- compared to suburban areas. Let's take a look at the statistics: In the United States, less than 3 percent of the land mass is made up of urban space, yet over 85 percent of our annual gross domestic product is generated in cities. Our personal transportation systems and the design of our buildings make up 53 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- more than industry, agriculture, planes and freight combined.

Sustainable living and the economy -- two hot button issues -- can be improved with one thing: more efficient housing. Densely populated cities with mass transit systems offer a smaller carbon footprint -- not to mention the positive impact on the economy and greater social mobility. Urban areas offer cultural centers, theaters, parks and recreational facilities. It's time we embrace these positive advantages and aggressively promote their sustainable growth into the future. In his book Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, Peter Calthorpe says "Confronting climate change is a little like the war on drugs; you can go after the supplier -- coal-fired power plants -- or you can pursue the addicts -- inefficient buildings and suburban sprawl. Both will be necessary."

Creating and using green technology in the form of electric cars, solar energy and wind farms are all important steps in the broad issue of climate change, however it doesn't compare to the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of life in an urban city where mass transit greatly reduces the need for personal gas-guzzlers. Walkable neighborhoods with easy access to work, shopping and socializing -- that is the new American dream.

Efficiently designed buildings are both sustainable and cost-effective, providing tenants a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Poorly designed, cramped spaces are just plain miserable -- not to mention wasteful. Taking on this challenge, the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) and the Museum of the City of New York developed the "Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers" exhibition to demonstrate to the public what the possibilities of the future of urban living can (and should) be. "More space", if designed inefficiently, does not equal "quality space." The exhibition showcases a micro-apartment, decked out with space saving furniture with a single, young professional in mind.

We're bursting at the seams with bright, creative and ambitious individuals hoping to pursue life in cities but are discouraging them by the lack of cost-effective, efficient living spaces. Just starting out, the young and ambitious are shying away from venturing out of their parents homes because of the financial constraints. According to Census data, households occupied by a single person are growing rapidly, over 40 percent in Atlanta, Seattle, Denver and Washington. Yet many people -- especially in places like New York -- are living in illegal sublets and cramped quarters. Why are we discouraging single people -- both young and old -- from becoming a part of urban communities and economy?

In an age when wasteful paper billing, clunky filing cabinets and shelves full of extensive book collections have been replaced by a single handheld device, it's time that our living spaces followed suit.

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