Well, we obviously can't throw away the land. Many environmentalists urge people to live in densely populated areas in order to reduce commute emissions and minimize impact on the land. Following this advice and reducing sprawl can also improve health. Scientists at the Center for Disease Control have linked sprawl and driving to increases in asthma mortality and declines in physical activity, adding to heart disease and childhood obesity. So will living in densely populated cities amend all of this?
According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Consumer Expenditure Survey of 2002, 27 metropolitan cities spend over 50% of their income on housing and transportation. These costs would greatly decrease in the city. Heating and electric bills can also be much lower in cities. The Carvalhos, a couple from Atlanta, Georgia, claimed on NPR to have bills triple those of their apartment when they moved out to the suburbs. Cities can indeed greatly reduce land use as well. According to Per Square Mile, the entire world's population could fit into Texas if we all lived as densely as New York City residents.
There may be some downsides to living that densely, however. According to John Lehrer, "After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control." Cassandra Willyard, a science writer at The Last Word on Nothing, adds that the stress of cities can also affect our brain. She notes a recent German study which showed that people who live in cities have greater activity in the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety when in stressful situations. Do we want to risk our mental health by living in dense, highly stressful cities?
Of course, this is not a perfect world. Downsides will be present, no matter what the situation. One solution to counteracting each of these living choices is by starting something similar to the EcoVillage in Ithaca. In each of three communities, the citizens have cohousing cooperatives and work to live sustainable lives. They often carpool and many residents hardly drive. They have centralized energy centers for heat and electricity. Having similar, cooperative, small communities would minimize land use, reduce pollution, keep stress down, and encourage community participation and activity for active lifestyles.