Hot air? Blame Kotkin

Joel Kotkin teamed up with Ali Modarres last Sunday to pen a piece for the Washington Post entitled “Hot World? Blame Cities, ” in which they ignore most of the scientific evidence about lower per capita carbon emissions of city residents, placing the blame for global warming largely on the shoulders of city-dwellers, and proposing that our auto-dependent suburbs actually present the best possible solution for curbing warming.


As you’d expect, there was a lot of outcry from many who understand the ecological and efficient benefits of living in well-designed cities — from lower energy consumption and emissions to the fact that city-dwellers drive less and generally have the option to take a walk, bike, bus, or train each day.

SGA communications director David Goldberg offered this letter in response to the Washington Post:

Joel Kotkin is right that the urban heat island effect can increase local temperatures and thereby cause people to use more air conditioning. He is way off base, however, to blame cities for climate change and argue that spreading development over more of the planet is the solution.

The Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that “urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence” on global climate change. Some climate change deniers also have claimed that localized heat islands have tricked us into believing the planet is warming. This claim, too, has been refuted and rejected by the scientific community.

Recent market trends show that people are once again drawn to living in convenient, urban locations with jobs and activities nearby. If this demand can be met as the nation continues its rapid growth, it will help the planet, as noted in the new book Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Both transportation and buildings consume less energy in compact settings, where people have more options for getting around or avoiding travel.

In an age of rising gas prices, Kotkin’s bid to force people to live far from cities, in areas where they are dependent on cars, is no help either to individual Americans or the planet.

Ryan over at The Bellows laments the fact that Kotkin missed a golden chance to discuss the exciting possibility of and need for greening the suburbs. As more people seek to live in well-designed, walkable neighborhoods with housing and transportation options, retrofitting older suburban neighborhoods to meet this demand could help curb emissions and reduce the need to drive:

Kotkin could have written a very sensible and smart piece on how it’s important to make suburbs greener, a theme he mentions in between shots at dense urban areas. Instead he threw scholarship out of the window, as he so often does these days, and decided that sticking his finger in the eyes of the urban elite was more important than contributing something to the discussion.”

There were scores of other letters and blog posts in response to the Washington Post spending valuable Sunday column inches on such a poorly-researched notion. Fellow advocates from the Congress for the New Urbanism, NRDC, Center for Neighborhood Technology, New Urban News, and others all drafted letters of their own. Read all of the letters and find links to other blog posts on this separate page of responses.

Read the responses to Joel Kotkin’s “Hot World? Blame Cities