city clouds

The Myth: Cities are polluted and have dirty air

The Reality: Urban air quality has improved dramatically since 1990

For decades, the common perception about cities is that they were dangerous, dirty, and crowded. A look at the facts tells a different story: our cities are cleaner, safer, quicker, and healthier than ever. Today I’ll take look at the story of smog and how smart policy has cleaned the urban air we breathe.

Over the past two decades, the United States has made significant progress in reducing air pollution. Emissions of the six major air pollutants—including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulates–are collectively down 56 percent since 1990. We’ve also made tremendous progress in reducing toxic air pollutants: lead levels in ambient air have been reduced 84 percent; benzene levels are down 66 percent. This progress has been widespread in the nation’s cities. The number of days in which air quality failed to meet health standards has declined in all 35 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

While we often perceive that cities are dirtier and produce more pollution than the suburbs, cities actually generate significantly less air pollution than suburbs on a per person basis. Urban residents drive fewer miles, are more likely to use public transit, consume less electricity, and have smaller heating bills than their suburban counterparts.

Every day, the storyline of American cities is changing. We’re hearing more about the social and economic opportunities that cities provide, but it’s important to recognize that urban neighborhoods become some of the best places to raise a family.

On Wednesday Thursday, I’ll take on the myth that criminals are running rampant in the streets of the country’s major cities. Spoiler alert: Robocop isn’t coming to a city near you.

Photo courtesy of Holly Clark on Flickr