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TRC Director pens book, The Very Hungry City
- By Jody Ciano
TRC Director, Dr. Austin Troy’s recently released book The Very Hungry City (Yale University Press) looks at the concept of “urban energy metabolism,” a term Troy uses to describe the efficiency with which cities use energy to meet their basic functions—from heating and powering buildings, to transporting goods and people, to providing water.
Behavior, climate, water supply, building quality, transportation, and many other factors contribute to the unique energy metabolism of each city. In the United States, Phoenix must expend enormous energy to pump water over mountains. Los Angeles’s famous freeway system has created a car-dependent society with limited transit options. Sun Belt cities depend on cheap energy to keep air conditioning affordable.
Dr. Troy had the opportunity to be interviewed by Vermont Public Radio’s Jane Lindholm on January 11, 2012 to discuss The Very Hungry city. Troy talked with Lindholm about how some European cities have invested heavily in energy efficiency and spurred innovation in transit development and building improvements. Efficient cities, those that are laid out and planned well, have efficient transportation systems, have a good mix of land use, and have efficient and well-designed building stock. In Sweden, for example, the City of Copenhagen has made public transit and bicycling easy forms of transportation and at the same time have created barriers to less energy efficient uses such as gas prices equivalent to $10.00 a gallon.
While urban energy efficiency has traditionally been an environmental concern, Troy contends that it’s about to become an economic one. With oil production peaking, constraints on other sources of fossil fuels, the possibility of greenhouse gas regulations, and big challenges to scaling up alternative sources of power, the growing consensus is that energy is going to be a lot more expensive in the future—perhaps indefinitely. As energy prices climb, urban energy metabolism will go from being just an environmental virtue to a core determinant of urban economic competitiveness. Efficient cities will have a significant advantage in attracting firms, employment and investment over those with a poor metabolism. Some cities will be able to adapt quickly, but others will face significant hurdles—particularly cities that are car-dependent, sprawling, low density, dominated by inefficient buildings, and located in energy-intensive climate zones.