We live in a world that is becoming more urban every day. Three and a half billion people live in cities, more than half of the world’s population, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming decades. This transition forces us to confront a number of challenges relating to energy. How will we grow enough food, find enough fuel, or even pave over enough land to accommodate all of the people who want to move to cities?
But that’s the global outlook. America’s urbanization situation is unique. In 2002, President George W. Bush said that owning a home was an integral part of living the American Dream. In the few decades surrounding the turn of the millennium, contractors built millions of home in suburban areas, and people moved away from cities. Today, Americans are moving back to urban areas. Unlike in developing countries, the American move to the city may actually be a net positive in terms of saving energy. Let’s take a closer look at how the urbanization trend is affecting energy savings.
Transportation, transportation, transportation
The biggest way that urbanization saves us energy is in our commutes. According to Pew Research, city dwellers are 3.5 times more likely to use public transportation than suburbanites. Mass transit systems are much more fuel-efficient than individual car ownership. Additionally, urban dwellers are far more likely to walk to a given location given the conveniences of population density. Why drive when your favorite pizza spot is a block away? If you move to a city, you’ll find that much of your energy savings—in your wallet and in terms of your carbon footprint—come at the gas pump.
Heating your home
Our commutes aren’t the only way we can save energy in the city. Unless you’re willing to shell out $50 million, urbanites own far smaller residences than their suburban counterparts. This means that city dwellers spend far less money heating or cooling their homes. Urban dwellings are also more likely to be energy-efficient than larger homes, i.e., an apartment is a better insulator than a bulky McMansion.
Of course, urban dwelling isn’t the perfect way to save energy. Urban heat islands, a process by which concrete insulates an urban environment, increase the temperatures of cities all over the world. This can mean some urban homes spend extra money on cooling in the summer. Urbanization is not perfect, but at least in the short term, the trend should help Americans save money on energy costs.