The Environmental Paradox of Cities: Gridded in Manhattan vs. Gridless in Dubai

Kelbaugh, Douglas

On the occasion of the Manhattan grid’s bicentennial, this essay looks at New York City and Dubai through the lens of sustainability and their patterns of land use and street layout. It demonstrates that the virtues of the grid are based on the environmental paradox of cities: when humans inhabit dense urban space, they decrease their impact on the global environment faster than they increase their impact on the local environment; in other words, their ecological footprints per capita are smaller than in both low-density sprawl and cities of similar density with coarser, less permeable networks. Dubai, a modernist city of superhighways, superblocks and superhighrises, rapidly developed a disconnected pattern of homogenous enclaves that has served to limit physical accessibility, especially on public transit and foot, as well as to undermine the inherent vibrancy and sustainability of the compact, complex, connected, and complete urbanism of gridded Manhattan.


Also Published In

Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth Institute
Published Here
December 7, 2015