We tend to think of cities as dirty and dangerous, but both these perceptions may need qualification.
In a book published earlier this year, William Meyers argues that although high-density population areas consume a great deal of energy, per capita energy consumption is higher in extra-urban areas, and drops as population density rises.
He accepts that cities pollute, but "the world’s worst air pollution anywhere is in rural areas. It’s in rural areas in the third world, and it’s indoor air pollution. It’s because rural areas depend upon smoky biomass fuels, so you get higher levels of that kind of pollution indoors in rural areas. You breathe it in very directly. It’s the biggest contribution to air pollution doses for people, but it’s not visible." Rural pollution from burning wood and coal was a major contributor to the huge smog in the region around Beijing in January.
Similarly, a 2005 paper by Brian Christens and Paul W. Speer (pdf) suggests the incidence of violent crime is negatively correlated with population density. Their study, centred on Nashville, Tennessee, concluded that not only was it a factor, but "this environmental characteristic – population density – predicted more of the variance in violent crime than the majority of the other population characteristics in the model."
There are other considerations that may affect one's choice of where to live, such as vulnerability to disruption of services; but ceteris paribus, it seems city living could be the beneficial model for the future.
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