Green Berlin

Paul Krugman joins me in Berlin:

Consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia — utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas — it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

I’d add that there’s another form of transport beloved of Berliners but rare in America: walking. The sidewalks are wide, the street intersections are pedestrian-friendly, and the city in general is seems to be based around a walkshed which is significantly bigger than that which you find in the US.

You even need to walk to get a taxi: in an eminently sensible gas-saving move in a country where gasoline is $8 a gallon, taxis for hire simply wait at taxi ranks rather than cruising the streets for fares.

Plus, of course, those four- or five-story apartment buildings generally don’t have elevators. Try selling that to the average American.

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