I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect to come to a conference on sustainability and hear the solution to the world’s problems is to get everyone to cram into tight spaces in big cities.
But then I heard Alex Steffen’s keynote – and it all made sense.
Steffen is an author and futurist (which is probably the coolest job title around). He is a firm believer in density. Growing cities that are denser are able to bring things together in one place. The more dense places get, the less energy people use. Lifestyles begin to change. They start to walk more. They ride a bike or take public transportation. They rely on deliveries instead of going to the mall. Less trips mean less energy.
I thought it was interesting that Steffen pointed out there will be a lag time involved in making these lifestyle changes. He said not everyone would immediately get rid of his or her car once moving to a dense space. It takes time before you get fed up with traffic and eventually realize you could get somewhere faster (and using less energy) by walking. When I moved to downtown San Antonio a couple of years ago, that’s the exact process I went through before I began walking to work and the gym every day.
Steffen also believes the American mindset has to change. Everything we do creates a footprint somewhere. He used a great analogy about a drill. An average consumer uses a drill purchased at a home improvement store for an average of 6-20 minutes over the drill’s lifespan. But somewhere (probably China), a lot of energy was used to create that drill. Did you really need to buy it? Could you not borrow a drill to hang a few pictures? Or maybe there can be a neighborhood drill that everyone uses. These are ideas spurred by people living in dense spaces.