The Very Hungry City

The Very Hungry City: Urban Energy Efficiency and the Economic Fate of Cities, by Austin Troy

Yale University Press

Honorable Mention Recipient: New York Book Festival, 2012

NOW IN PAPERBACK (January 2014)




About the Author

Austin Troy, PhD is Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Colorado, Denver in the College of Architecture and Planning. He addresses issues around urban and regional sustainability using tools such as Geographic Information Systems and spatial modeling.  He is principal and co-founder of Spatial Informatics Group, LLC, an environmental consulting firm in operation since 1998.  Prior to coming to Colorado, he was a faculty member at the University of Vermont, where he directed their Transportation Research Center. He is also a co-principal investigator of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, one of the National Science Foundation’s two urban Long-Term Ecological Research projects.  In addition, he served for four years as a planning commissioner for the city of Burlington VT. He has published dozens of articles and book chapters in the past and edited one book. He was educated at Yale College (B.A.), Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (M.F.), and University of California Berkeley (Ph.D.). This is his first book authored on his own. Originally from Los Angeles, he currently lives in Denver, CO with his wife and two sons.

photo: Susannah Kerest



Book Summary

Table of contents

Text sample from Amazon's "Look inside"

Which cities and suburbs will prosper in the years to come, and which will decline? Are the fates of our cities set in stone, or can we take action to secure their future vitality? As global demand for energy grows and prices rise, each city’s viability will be closely tied to its energy consumption. In The Very Hungry City, Austin Troy argues that any city with a high energy metabolism—that is, any city that needs large amounts of energy in order to function—will be at a serious competitive disadvantage.

Troy travels from Baltimore to Denver, from Portland, Oregon, to Burlington, Vermont, to illuminate the diverse challenges cities face as dramatically higher costs loom. Behavior, climate, water supply, building quality, transportation, and many other factors contribute to the unique energy metabolism of each city.  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.

Troy, an expert on urban environmental management, makes clear for citizens the enormity of the problems, but he is also interested in solutions. He looks at dozens of cities and suburbs in Europe and the United States to assess some of the most imaginative approaches to improving energy metabolism.

In Copenhagen, 90 percent of residents own a bike and only 53 percent of households own a car. In Stockholm, the whole city is designed around mass transit. In Baltimore, successful redevelopment of the city center is breathing life into neighborhoods abandoned in the age of cheap gas. In Portland, regional planning and growth boundaries are guiding development to prevent energy-wasting sprawl. In Hammarby Sjostad, Sweden, a new housing development marries efficiency and beauty, generating heat from garbage and providing extremely high quality of life for residents.

The Very Hungry City provides the clearest explanation available for general readers of why a surge in energy prices is inevitable. Troy explains both the benefits and the drawbacks of each potential fuel source—oil, coal, gas, solar, wind, biofuels, hydroelectric, and nuclear. He finds that there is no silver bullet that will prevent dramatic and permanent change in the cost of energy, and some cities will be devastated by this change. But there are many options for addressing the issues now, Troy argues. The Very Hungry City lays out those options, providing first steps for transforming the best ideas into real solutions.



Advance Praise for The Very Hungry City

“Austin Troy delivers a fascinating—and chilling—look at our cities’ dangerous dependence on an unpredictable world energy market. He shows why we need to break our addiction to cheap energy, and offers practical solutions on how to do it.” —Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post

A readable analysis about why it makes sense to plan for our future now and that ‘Smart Growth’ does not mean ‘no growth’.  At a time when energy and environmental issues are being hotly debated in Congress, the author uses economics to make the case for sustainable development and, hopefully, will inform policymakers now, when it counts.”
—Christine Todd Whitman, former Gov. of New Jersey and Administrator of the EPA

 “Engagingly written and meticulously researched…A must-read for those who are interested in how energy is currently used in our communities and how those communities can use less while actually improving the quality of life.” —Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont

“I felt I had learned a lot about the reasons that energy utilization patterns in urban America are as wasteful and intense as they are.  I’ve not seen another book like this.”
—Lawrence E. Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“How we build our cities and how we live in them is the key to addressing the central environmental challenges of our time.  With compelling examples drawn from around the globe, Austin Troy’s Very Hungry City shows by doing urban places right, we can not only curb our prodigious appetites—but at the same time enjoy a better quality of life.”
—Joseph Cortright, author of City Vitals



Selected Reviews

" us a sure-handed, cogent treatment of urban challenges, focusing on 'urban energy metabolism' — a city's pattern of energy use determined by its location, culture, history and size. Most US cities need massive energy inputs per capita compared with many of their European, Chinese or developing-world counterparts. The price they pay is a vulnerability to scarcity, rising costs and environmental decay. Troy traces energy use through water consumption, transport, construction, the heating and cooling of homes, and the creation of workable communities, and includes sidebars on energy choices from renewables, natural gas and coal to nuclear power, oil and biofuels."

-David Orr, Nature (journal)

"Just like its namesake, this book is a highly enjoyable and easy read that is perfectly pitched at its target audience...If the aim of this book was to provide planners in the US with a firm
but gentle push in the right direction, then it has clearly achieved that goal, but more
importantly the accessibility of his writing should guarantee that his ideas will inform
and empower a much wider audience. For that reason alone we need more books like this."

-Keith Baker, Urban Studies Journal

"[A] well written book...Austin Troy’s [sic] A Very Hungry City is an example of good scholarship made available to the general public. Academics, college students, and private individuals could all benefit from the ideas and themes presented."

Brian Baskervill, The Journal of Urban Affairs

"Troy...writes with great clarity. As a result, The Very Hungry City is a penetrating examination of what's happening to the availability of oil, natural gas, solar and wind power, and other forms of energy--and what this means for cities.....This book is full of interesting, independent-minded

-Philip Langdon, Better! Cities and Towns (formerly New Urban News)

"The author’s obvious passion for urban energy efficiency and his straightforward and conversational writing style makes a somewhat dry topic truly fascinating."

-The Global Journal

"Troy....provides some fascinating background on topics such as how the advent of air conditioning in the 1950s precipitated migration to the sunblet cities and the dependency of Phoenix and Los Angeles on power to pump in their water supplies."

-The Architect's Journal

"The Very Hungry City is an accessible book for policy-makers and those who are interested
to learn more on the topic of energy consumption by cities."

Caroline J. Uittenbroek, Urban Reserach and Practice

"This book is a thought provoking read. Our future may be bright but we must accept what is in store for us."

-The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

Editor's Pick, "Highly recommended"

-Choice Reviews Online (American Library Association)

Also covered in: The American Interest, Civil Engineering, Landscape Architecture Magazine, and Earth Magazine


Reprinted magazine excerpts or derived material from The Very Hungry City

"Can America Embrace Biking the Way Denmark Has?" Slate. Nov 1. 2012

"Thirsty City". Places Magazine/Design Observer, Jan. 23, 2012

"Will Energy-Efficiency be the New Competitive Advantage for Cities?" The European Financial Review, Dec 14, 2011.





October 25: Urban Energy Metabolism, Sustainable Communities, and Economic Competitiveness. TEDx Mid-Atlantic talk, Washington, DC.

October 22: The Very Hungry City: What urban energy metabolism means for sustainability and competitiveness. Keynote address to Baltimore Ecosystem Study Annual Meeting. Baltimore, MD

January 18: The Urban Transportation Energy Appetite: Why Some Cities Are Hungrier Than Others. Urban Dialogue on Critical Environmental Issues. Invited symposium speaker at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


October 20: Invited panelist at Sustainability and the City: The Shape of Things to Come. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT

October 19: Urban Energy Metabolism, Sustainable Communities, and Economic Competitiveness. Featured speaker at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies reunion weekend. New Haven, CT

September 27: The Transportation-Energy-Land Use Connection. Invited speaker for Environmental Studies seminar. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

June 19: Featured speaker at Yale Club of New York City

March 8: Keynote speach at McGill University "Sustainability and the City" Symposium, Montreal, Canada. More details

March 3, 3-5 PM: Book party and signing at the Living Green House in Los Angeles with Ed Begley Jr. FREE to Yale Club Members and Yale School of Forestry alumni; $10 non-members. More details

February 13. 4-6. Lecture and book signing/reception at University of Vermont, Davis Center Sugar Maple Ballroom. Sponsored by the UVM Transportation Research Center







June 6: The Enviro Show, South African Public Radio. Archive audio (approx 15 minutes)


April 10, KPCC Los Angeles. Patt Morrison Show. Archive audio (20 minutes)

March 29: WYPR Baltimore. Midday with Dan Rodricks. Achive audio (1 hour)

January 31: Where We Live show. Connecticut Public Radio. Archive audio (1 hour)

January 31: "The Thirty" on WCAX TV. Archive video. (10 minutes)

January 30: radio interview on the nationally syndicated George Jarkesy Show. Archive audio (20 minutes)

January 8: Burlington Free Press article by Tim Johnson

January 11: interview on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition." Archive audio (1 hour)





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