Austin Troy explores the economic competitiveness of cities in the light of what he calls their urban energy metabolism, i.e., the different rates at which cities consume energy. The drivers of this urban energy metabolism are for example climate, access to water, the quality of buildings, industrial use, and transportation/urban development. Too many American cities are car-dependent, sprawling agglomerations. Think for example about Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In European and Asian cities, ownership of a car is far more a liability than an asset.
Mr. Troy rightly warns his audience against complacency. Energy prices are not guaranteed to remain low forever. The author calls for both improving energy efficiency and developing new clean energy generation capacity. Mr. Troy usually explores the pros and cons of the different energy sources with objectivity in what he calls "interlude." However, the author is clearly too pessimistic about nuclear power, by far the leading U.S. electricity source which does not emit greenhouse gases. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently approved the Westinghouse Advanced Passive 1000 nuclear power plant design and the construction and operating license for the two-reactor Plant Vogtle expansion in Georgia. Nonetheless, Mr. Troy rightly lambastes the incoherent U.S. policy for the management, reprocessing, and/or disposal of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors.
Mr. Troy looks at a wide variety of cities such as Bangkok, Copenhagen, Denver, Houston, London, New York, São Paulo, and Stockholm, to identify the best practices for improving a city's energy metabolism. The author comes to the conclusion that regionalism is at the heart of a coherent urban policy in the U.S. Local planning too often leads to urban inefficiencies among competing local jurisdictions, whose costs are born heavily by the U.S. federal government. Mr. Troy notes that contrary to popular perception, regionalism is not un-American. The U.S. federal government is already involved in many aspects of community building such as transportation and infrastructure funding, environmental protection, natural hazards protection, and housing policy. The author calls for a much more effective regionalism at the U.S. federal level. Think for example about a revised conceptualization and funding of federal transportation projects, locally relevant environmental policies, changes to sprawl-inducing federal housing finance and credit policies, and urban revitalization. However, U.S. local, county, regional, and state governments also have a key role to play in improving urban energy metabolism. Cities such as Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, and New York have taken steps to reduce their energy footprint in the names of quality of life, economic development, or energy efficiency.
In summary, Mr. Troy calls for changes to how cities operate in the name of energy efficiency before the eventual advent of significantly higher energy prices.