Moving to large cities is good for the environment

Living in the city benefits the environment, says geographer Håvard Haarstad. The Ten Minute City may be the future of urban living.

Håvard Haarstad, portrait
URBAN LIVING IS ECO LIVING: Håvard Haarstad champions the Ten Minute City – a more compact and environmentally friendly way of living.
Eivind Senneset, University of Bergen

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You are more interested in the climate and cities than most. Why?

“It is a bit by chance, lots of things are important to do further research. But the driving force has been my need to research something I believe is of importance to society. Urban planning is climate politics. How cities are planned lays the basis for how we move around the city. How cities are built plays an important role in how we use energy.”


One of your interests has been the so-called Ten Minute City. Can you explain what this is?

“The main argument is that short distances make us able to kill several birds with one stone. In the Ten Minute City, several operations are placed within nodes or smaller areas. Here, people can work, live and buy what they need locally. Combining these functions within an area reduces traffic and pollution. People will have more time. The key is giving city inhabitants the opportunity to make the right choices. A climate friendly city is a good city.”


The costs of making such a change must be enormous?

“We are constantly planning how our cities will develop. The investments will be made either way. Planning a more climate friendly city will be more cost-effective than just waiting. The alternative is just as costly: climate change, car jams and longer commutes.”


Beijing is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, and has major problems with air pollution. Is it always true that urban living is more environmentally friendly?

“Yes. Everyone needs a place to live, and to be transported to their place of work. A more compact living requires less energy use. Were people in Beijing to live in single housing with separate gardens, things would be much worse, and the city span would be considerably bigger than what it already is. Their pollution might be less visible, but there would have been more of it.”


It is hard to understand that living in a small village in Norway hurts the environment more than living in Hamburg or Budapest. Is rural living damaging the environment?

“If you live in a village, have an ecological garden and a short distance to where you work, you are not hurting the environment. Living in a large and energy demanding house with a large garden and having to drive to work does, however.”


Does that mean that people in rural areas have to move to the city?

“No, people living there should keep doing just that. There is no need to force anyone into moving to the city. Cities are already feeling the pressure from people wanting to move there, both globally and in Norway. A lot of people want to live in a city. That makes planning and organising in the most environmentally friendly way the most important topic.”


Why do so many people want to move to urban centres?

“There are different answers to that. There is the so-called bright lights syndrome, perhaps most visible in developing countries today. This is the allure of the city, a place where you can create your own future and which you do not find in the countryside. The hope of a better future, rather than a detailed plan makes people choose. In addition, population growth and the industrialisation of agriculture play a part in this. Not finding a job where you live makes people move. Here in Norway, having higher education is common, and the cities are where most of the jobs are. We move around, to a much higher degree than before.”