Census and Experts Confirm Death of Sprawl in US

The United States has reached an historic moment. The exurban development explosion that defined national growth during the past two decades has come to a screeching halt, according to the latest US Census figures. Only 1 of the 100 highest-growth US communities of 2006—all of them in sprawled areas—reported a significant population gain in 2011, prompting Yale economist Robert Shiller to predict suburbs overall may not see growth “during our lifetimes.”

We are simultaneously witnessing the decline of the economic sectors enabled by hypergrowth development: strip malls and massive shopping centers, SUVs and McMansions.  The end of exurban population growth has been accompanied by steep economic decline in real estate value, triggering a loss of spending not only in construction, but also home improvement (Home Depot, Best Buy) and numerous associated retail sectors that were banking on the long-term rising fortunes of “Boomburbs.”

The fate of these communities has been so dire that for the first time in the United States suburbs now have greater poverty than cities.

In 2009, I attributed the financial crash in these car-based communities to economic factors perpetrated by the higher gas prices that had first started showing impacts in late 2006 and peaked in 2008. Others including The Brookings Institution’s Christopher Leinberger, and William Frey, along with NRDC’s Kaid Benfield have pointed to longer term demographic shifts and societal desires toward renting in denser mixed-use neighborhoods. The looming specter of excess greenhouse gases may also be playing a role in the marked reduction of driving among younger Americans (16-39 year olds), who increasingly prefer to live where they can walk or bike to their local store, school or café.

The “Death of Sprawl” chapter that I wrote, published by the Post Carbon Institute in 2009, (and in abridged form in the Post Carbon Reader in 2010), provided a case study on Victorville, California. Located 75 miles outside Los Angeles, Victorville’s rise and crash epitomized the hangover of the go-go sprawl era.

During the financial system’s Derivative Daze, Victorville grew from 64,000 in 2000 to more than 108,000 by 2005: no-money-down-housing developments and “liar loans” fueled speculative investments that pumped up the desert city’s average home value to almost $350,000. The large numbers of workers that moved to Victorville had to commute long hours before dawn and after dark to get to work in Los Angeles, without the benefit of local public transit. There are still few options for those who wish to walk or bicycle to stores, jobs, schools or local amenities, and the average near 100 degree summer temperatures make such endeavors foolhardy.

When gas prices began to go up in 2006, real estate sales in the region began to dry up as people ran for the exits. As the doors slammed shut, foreclosures in California’s Inland Empire (Victorville and other parts of California’s sprawling San Bernardino and Riverside counties), Las Vegas and Florida began to trigger a nationwide real estate meltdown. To stick with our illustration, Victorville houses plummeted from an average of nearly $350,000 in 2006 to $125,000 by late 2009. Likewise, new home permits in Victorville went from 7964 in 2004-06 down to 739 in 2008-10: a drop of more than tenfold! The average home sale now brings around $110,000, less than a third of 2005-2006 prices.

Institutional investors and homebuyers alike have avoided for the past five years the nation’s scores of Victorvilles; the new data and pronouncements by experts such as Shiller, author of The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, likely put the last nails in the coffin of speculative, auto-dependant sprawl.

Recent US Census data confirms that the future of the United States is no longer about an economy based on the false and dangerous pretenses of unfettered greenfield development, with its unhealthy and climate-destructive sprawl-scape of fast food, big box retail and freeway-bred exurbs. National policies and investments should strengthen and improve existing cities and suburbs, including transit infrastructure, building retrofitting, clean energy, walkability, bicycle networks and neighborhood redesign–all areas where quality local job and community engagement opportunities can flourish.

Chart Courtesy Brookings Institution

We’ve known for some time that planning for more sustainable metros, both cities and suburbs, makes better sense in terms of protecting local food, water and land resources, as well as in reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Now we know that such actions have been proven to make much better short-term economic sense, while acting as tangible investments for the long term.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, a global consultancy for sustainable urban planning and development.

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UN’s New Sustainable City Effort Starts With Asia


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2010 Shanghai Expo Closing Summit

We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st
century.

Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management,
systems, experts, policies and technologies.The world is rapidly becoming more urban,
especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities.This massive migration, largest
in human history, will produce colossal impacts–including innovation–in energy use, transportation,
housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.

Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development
of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission
increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years,
and we are faced with the urgency–and opportunity–to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the
future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability
strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the
sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the
slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.

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China’s Urban Low Carbon Future in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI–The Shanghai Expo officially closed yesterday with pomp, circumstance, and a confirmation of the city as the planet’s primary hope for a low-carbon future.

“Eco-friendly development and dissemination of renewable energy sources and new materials will influence the way we live and will lead the course of industrial development in the future,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to the closing Expo Summit contingent of domestic and foreign dignitaries (eight heads of state), Nobel Prize winners and business leaders. 

The World Expo, the world’s largest in history with 73 million attending, for the first time in 159 years focused on cities, sustainable ones that is. China’s plans for 350-600 million more urban residents by 2050 threatens to tip the earth’s scales in terms of climate change and the economy so much that China is now focused on a fifth global industrial wave: the low-carbon or green economy.

“The low-carbon economy is a new industrial revolution,” said Sir Nicholas Stern, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Low-carbon growth is cleaner, safer, far more attractive while high-carbon growth will kill itself. China is well placed for this industrial revolution.”

Stern, author of the groundbreaking 2006 “Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change”, was referring to China’s new national pilot program announced thus summer by its all-powerful National Development Reform Commission for five low-carbon provinces and eight low-carbon cities.

One of the low-carbon cities, Baoding, for instance, within the last three years added 20,000 new jobs in wind, PV solar ( the city of one million is home to Yingli Solar, among other renewable start-ups), and other renewable energy technologies. It’s also the site of large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy installations in everything from building-integrated solar to streetlights. The new national pilot programs are expected to pick up the pace and provide a template for the rest of the nation’s provincial and city low-carbon transformations.

Throughout its six-month run, the Shanghai Expo featured numerous forums on urban sustainability. Meanwhile, its pavilions employed many new green technologies in design and architecture. More than 500 new technologies in solar, heat pumps, energy efficiency, transportation and advanced material were developed as part of the Expo, according to ShiFang Tang, Technical Office Vice Director for the Shanghai Expo Bureau.

The massive China Pavilion and the country’s “theme” pavilions on sustainable cities and urban best practices repeatedly and effectively emphasized how the challenges of climate change, pollution and growing consumer consumption can be met with more advanced urban planning, green technology innovation and citizen education.

The displays and creativity were the best I’ve experienced, anywhere, in terms of sustainability information, education and multi-media. For instance, one entire building was devoted to four real families living in the cities of four different contenents, Australia, North America, Africa and China. The exhibit demonstrated through video, waxed figures (the mostly Chinese crowds especially loved these) and other physical displays demonstrating how each family lived and what they did for work, fun, school. At the same time it taught people experiencing the multi-level walk-through how much each family consumed in terms of resources, even land, and how that impacted climate change: carbon or ecological footprinting education for the masses.

The takeaway is that China is serious about climate change as a threat to the world and itself, and it intends to capitalize on this inevitability with all its might. China’s National Development Reform Commission’s low carbon pilot projects comprise 27 percent of the nation’s population, and about one-third of its total economic output. The new low-carbon pilot projects span not only provincial and city planning and operations, but also industrial, economic and social planning, including education. In short, the whole ball of wax: “China will accelerate the model of sustainable development where nature, the planet and people can survive and thrive,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao at the Expo Summit’s closing ceremonies.

It will be a tough path, indeed. Only one day after industrial controls were lifted that were in place for six months during the Expo in order to reduce regional air pollution, the air quality in Shanghai has already gone from crystal clear to disturbingly smoggy. As Stern pointed out to a rapt audience at the Shanghai Expo Summit, China will need to reduce its projected total greenhouse gas emissions from 35 billion tons in 2030 to 20 billion tons by 2050 if the world will have any chance of realizing the 2 degree Celsius maximum global temperature increase agreed to with the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

China, if it continues on its current trajectory of yearly greenhouse gas emission increases, will by 2030, according to Stern, account for 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas “budget” under Copenhagen while being home to only 17-18 percent of the world’s population.

“New green investments will help China continue its lead in the green race that has already begun,” Stern predicted. “Green policies are at the heart of the 12th Five-year Plan (the nation’s economic master plan for the near future, a new version which was recently drafted), showing the world what is possible.”

Meanwhile, Shanghai, China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, is deconstructing many of its Expo buildings for reuse in other parts of the nation, and also for other bidders outside China so that its Expo theme of “Better City, Better Life” gets a second and maybe even more lives. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 

 

 

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India cuts gas subsidy in favor of greener investments?

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Dehli Metro, Phase One

Is India trying to turn a corner toward more sustainable economic development with its recent reduction in fossil fuel subsidies?

India’s decision to completely cut gasoline subsidies last month has created national protests, as new unsubsidized gas prices rose to about $4.60 a gallon. The country has also reduced subsidies to natural gas, diesel and kerosene, all to balance a budget and reportedly redistribute money for economic development, including the planning of cities with more sustainable energy and transportation.

Gasoline will no longer be sold below cost by producers and retailers in India, as it had been until the late June announcement was made to end the subsidies, which have been cut $5.2 billion. That leaves the remaining government and state owned fuel companies subsidy spending at about $11.5 billion this fiscal year.

India has embarked on a program to develop new and greener cities, and to redesign existing cities for greater sustainability as its urban population swells in the wake of a national population that is forecast by the United Nations to surpass China’s population by 2030.

The nation is moving from its agrarian roots to a service-based economy that has been boosted by the rise of the companies in information technology, health care and other professional services.

Clean technology areas being investigated for large-scale implementation with urban development include infrastructure investments in PV solar, geothermal energy, and advanced wastewater treatment. A new metro rail system in Delhi that opened a major line earlier this year is now one of the world’s largest.

Indeed, India–like China–may be on a course to reinvent itself for the 21st century.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings.
   

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The Next Decade’s Top Sustainability Trends

The top ten sustainability stories of the past
decade
was my last post.
What trends are likely the next ten years? One thing for sure, 2010 through
2019 will be one day be looked at as 1.) the turning point for addressing climate change
by using effective urban management strategies, or it will be remembered as 2.)
the time when we collectively fumbled the Big Blue Ball.

 

chinabikes.jpg

 

 

1.     
Bikes Culture 2.0

Time period: 2010-2019

 

Around the world, bicycles are becoming a
potent talisman of our urban post-carbon future. The city of
Copenhagen is making noise to replace the Little Mermaid of Hans Christian
Andersen fame
with something two-wheeled. Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of
all their transit. But
bikes in Europe represent more than utility; riding a bicycle with the Velib’
bikeshare program in Paris now easily competes (42 million registered users)
with taking a spring walk along the Seine. Bikesharing abounds in dozens of
European cities as well as in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Chile. Look for North American burgs to continue their proliferation of bicycles-as-transit use
and bike lane expansion (NYC bicycle use is up 61% in two years).
Bikesharing on a large scale should follow new programs in Montreal,
Washington DC, and
Minneapolis.
Note to China: time to reclaim your status as the world’s “bicycle kingdom.” 

gestaltsmall.jpg

Indoor bicycle parking will be
common in commercial garages and offices
even in businesses like cafes, bars (Gastalt Haus in Fairfax, California, is pictured above), stores and restaurants. On public
transportation bicycles will be allowed access at any time. In short, bicycles
and their riders will become legit, which will influence fashion, the economies
and the design of cities in particular. As musician-turned-bike-rack designer David
Byrne observed in his surprise 2009 bestseller Bicycle
Diaries,
US metro areas in particular might have to be re-engineered
completely in some cases to accommodate this massive social transformation: 

I try to explore some of these
towns–Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta–by bike and it’s frustrating. The
various parts of town are often “connected”–if one can call it that–mainly by
freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the
neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to
connect as well.

 

2.     
Mexico City, Climate Change, and the Future of Cities

Time Period: November-December
2010

mexico-city-mexico350.jpg

 

Because “Nopenhagen” was a semi
bust, the Mexico City United Nations Climate Change conference is taking on
much bigger proportions than initially envisioned.
The UN COP15 Copenhagen conference resulted in no binding treaty status among
any of the 128 nations that attended for them to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s late fall gathering in Mexico City is likely to set
national binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these
targets will set the stage the coming entire decade’s greenhouse gas reduction
strategies, including sub-national efforts at the regional and city level.
After disappointment in Copenhagen, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon lost no time in
preparing for Mexico City, calling on world leaders to sign a
legally binding carbon-emission reduction treaty
and to contribute to a multi-national fund for developing nations that will be
opened this month. Let’s hope such a fund adequately addresses sustainable
urban development in Asian cities, whose currently unregulated hyper-growth is
expected to contribute more than half the world’s greenhouse gas increases
between now and 2027.

 

3.     
The Rise of Cellulosic Biofuels

Time Period 2014-2019

 

Creating conventional biofuels
from corn, soybeans and palm oil as an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline
hit numerous roadblocks in the past decade. Carbon-sequestering rainforests in
Indonesia continue to be burned down for palm oil plantations; this unforeseen
consequence of biofuel demand caused the European Union to back off on large
orders of palm oil
.
Another big unintended consequence emerged when crude oil prices rose to record
levels in 2007-2008. Biofuels, including corn-based ethanol created competition
for agricultural land, resulting in an increase in the cost of food staples.
Global corn prices, which biofuels caused to increase an estimated 15% to 27%
in 2007
alone, were especially impacted.

19tortillas.650.jpg

 

Cellulosic biofuels, in contrast,
offer the promise by the middle of the decade of creating a viable energy
source (one of many that will be needed) from waste products, such as wood waste, grasses, corn stalks, and other
non-food products. The trick will be to balance land use with energy production
http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_rogers_biofuels.html
so that unintended consequences, particularly burning rainforests and urban
food price riots
(Mexico City in 2007 pictured above) will be a thing of the past. Backed by research funding from the Obama Administration’s
US Department of Energy (DOE), companies such as Mascoma Corporation
and Amyris Biotechnologies (with former Amyris founder Jay Keasling now at the helm of the DOE Joint Biosciences Energy Institute) are some
of the current leaders in the quest for a non-food biofuel.

 

telepresence.jpg

4.     
The marriage of ICT and Green Cities

Time Period: 2013-2019

Called “the great digital
underbelly” of new and retrofitted sustainable cities by Gordon Feller of Urban
Age
, green ICT (information and communications
technologies) holds promise for increasing the energy and resource efficiency of
most aspects of urban development. If these technologies can offset their
operating and production resource impacts (estimated to use 2-3 percent of
total industry energy used, but forecast to double by 2022),
the world could benefit from initial increased efficiencies in the 15-25
percent range
(pdf). A crowded field that includes IBM, Cisco,
General Electric, Siemens and others is positioning to implement new ICT for
sustainability in cities, demonstrating applications at the pilot project level.
Cities with pilot or operating projects in green ICT include Amsterdam, San
Francisco, Masdar City (United Arab Emirates), Seoul, London, Singapore,
Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai,
Stockholm and Oslo. The following are Green Smart City applications and
examples of companies involved:

    • traffic congestion monitoring and pricing
      systems: IBM, Capita Group
    • water applications (leakage detection,
      purification): IBM, Siemens
    • building applications (sense-and-respond
      technologies to monitor temperature, light, humidity and occupancy): Johnson
      Controls, Siemens, IBM
    • intelligent public transportation and logistics:
      PwC, Samsung, Cisco
    • public shared offices with telepresence (pictured above): Cisco,
      Hewlett-Packard
    • home and office smart appliances that can tie in
      with smart grid energy applications: General Electric, AT&T, Whirlpool
    • smart grids: General Electric, Schneider
      Electric, SAP, Oracle, ABB
    • data centers for cities: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco
    • carbon inventories and carbon accounting:
      Microsoft, Oracle

     

 

5.     
Implementation of Carbon Taxes

2010-2019

 

Exxon Mobil surprised many in
early 2009 when it called for a carbon tax as a way to address global climate
change. Whether the former denier of global climate change got religion remains
to be seen. Carbon taxes have been proposed for oil, natural gas and coal by
many as a way to adjust former so-called market “externalities,” or impacts
beyond classically defined air pollution, which now includes greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
A handful of nations have some form of carbon tax, mostly in Scandinavia. On
the sub-national level, British Columbia and the San Francisco Bay
Area

recently proposed some form of the tax. Costs for carbon taxes can be
passed on to consumers directly, or they could be levied on industry, which
would likely cause manufacturing and operating costs to be wholly or partially
passed onto consumers.

 

Currently, the costs of producing
and using fossil fuels do not take into account the vast damage these
activities do to the earth’s climate, which is gaining atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations at a rapid rate, endangering the stability of natural ecosystems, people’s health, and the economy.

 

6.     
The First Big Urban Climate Change Adaptation: Drought

2010-1019

 

A major effort at climate change
adaptation is underway in California as well as other urban areas that are
experiencing or are likely to feel the early effects from climate change.
Prolonged droughts consistent with the impacts of climate change are being seen
in Beijing, Southwestern North America (Mexico City/ LA, etc.) and urban areas in Southeast Australia.

maude barlow.jpg

 

As Maude Barlow (above) writes in her 2008
book Blue Covenant
,
cities are becoming hotspots not only for suffering from the effects of water
shortages, but in many cases urbanization may be actually creating or exacerbating the severity
of drought:

 

Massive urbanization causes the
hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall back on
green stuff — vegetation and grass — so that the process can repeat itself.
Or we are sending huge amounts of water from large watersheds to megacities and
some of them are 10 to 20 million people, and if those cities are on the ocean,
some of that water gets dumped into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle.

 

Adaptation strategies will focus
on preparing government, business and citizens for extreme heat events,
wildfires (including urban/suburban wildfires), disease, and large-scale
migration of populations from impacted areas. Some of the efforts will involve
education and community outreach, such as Chicago’s efforts to alert the elderly and handicapped to
imminent heat waves, or having people check on others that may be vulnerable
when conditions warrant. Other measures will require huge chunks of investments in
urban  public and private infrastructure
to prevent coastal flooding and to store dwindling seasonal water supplies,
while health care professionals are likely to be first responders to new climate
change-boosted disease outbreaks, such as dengue fever.
The military is also likely to be added to the mix of climate change adaptation
actors.

 

 

7.     
End of Cheap Oil/ Onset of Fossil Fuel Shortages

2012-2019

 

Besides fresh water, oil is the
most threatened increasingly imported resource in developed economies. Energy shortages
or supply disruptions are expected to continue to develop because of political
acts, terrorism, warfare and natural disasters. The issue is not that the
reserves are “running out,” but that getting at the remaining oil in a
cost-effective manner is becoming increasingly more difficult, as has been
outlined in multiple books by author Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over, Peak Everything) and others. As former Shell Oil CEO Jeroen van der Veer said in a 2008 email to
employees
, “Shell estimates that after 2015, supplies of easy-to-access oil and
gas will no longer keep up with demand.” Add the coming impacts of global climate change regulations to the scarce oil
equation (see Trends numbers 2 and 5 in this post), and oil will continue to be
an unpredictable flashpoint for the world economy. In 2007-2008, rapidly rising oil
prices helped trigger
a deep world recession;
during the next decade oil may set off a chain of economic and civil events
that could be far more severe.

 

With market uncertainty for oil
prices and oil supplies, this new decade will witness the sunset of
exurban-style automotive dependant sprawl in the United States
and in many overseas copycat developments, particularly Asia. The overbuilt market
for large, totally car-dependent single family homes in outer suburbia is expected
by even some developers to not be viable for almost a decade, even if oil prices and supply stay relatively stable. A prolonged recurrence
of oil prices above $100-150 a barrel will drive a stake through the heart of
the exurban car-only model of real estate speculation, and will hit many other
elements (food, imported goods, oil-based products) of the Western economy.

 

8.     
Focus on Urban Agriculture and Foodsheds

Time Period: 2012-2019

cultivosorganoponicos.jpg

As fuel prices rise and unexpected energy shortages
occur, food prices will rise rapidly, especially for food that must be
transported long distances via airplanes, stored and processed. The alternative
is greater local and regional food production in and around cities. Existing
cities in Latin America (Havana, Cuba–pictured above–and Quito, Ecuador), Africa (Dar Es Salam, Tanzania; Kampala,
Uganda
) and Asia (Seoul, South Korea), have produced significant
quantities of produce or aquaculture within their city limits.
Cities in North America that have maintained or are building or rebuilding
strong regional food networks include Seattle, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia
and San Francisco. Some newly planned cities are being engineered to produce
significant amounts of food that can also be used as a potential energy source
or rich compost nutrient. Examples include Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (United
Arab Emirates) and a supposedly scalable community plan called NewVista that is expected to be prototyped in the
United States and in Asia: both are innovating the production of food from
algae and other low-energy input nutrient sources.

 

9.     
Resiliency planning: cities, towns, homes

Time Period: 2010-2019

Transition-Towns.jpg

 

Resiliency is about making a
system or one’s self stronger and more able to survive adversity. As the
previous items portend, there will no shortage of adversity during the coming
decade from climate change and energy supply instability. One of the major
social phenomena related to resiliency has been the emergence of the Transition
Town
movement,
which has grown from a few villages in the United Kingdom to Barcelona, Spain, Boulder,
Colorado, and Sydney, Australia. The founder
of the phenomena, Rob Hopkins, also a Post Carbon Institute Fellow,
has used his transition model of Totnes, United Kingdom, to devise a global organizational playbook. The purpose of transition thinking is to prepare people for potential
shortages in global energy supplies and food caused by peaking oil and climate
change. In contrast to earlier “off-the-grid” movements of the 1970s,
Transition Towns can be located in urban neighborhoods as well as in the distant
boonies, and they focus on community-scaled solutions in transportation,
health, economics and people’s livelihoods and personal skills. Tactics of
local groups vary widely, with events ranging from the familiar–clothing swaps
and art festivals to the seemingly more obscure–“unleashings,”–to
policy-laden activities, such as launching a long-term (15-20 years) “Energy Descent
Action Plan.” The emphasis is on understanding and using collective community
resources, including knowledge and skills, that people have in their own sphere
of influence, versus waiting for top-down government decrees.

 

10.  Sustainability Movie/ Novel /Art/ Song

       Time Period
2010-2019

 

 

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There has yet to be a significant
work of popular art that I am aware of that captures the modern systemic
aspirations of sustainability. In terms of modern life, some works have focused
on environmental destruction, (Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me”), the terror
of abrupt climate change (the unsuccessful 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow), the international political subterfuge behind
oil (2005’s Syriana with George Clooney, one of my personal favorite films), and the destruction of natural
systems (Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book The Lorax) or cultural/species depletion (James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar), but no novel, song, painting or movie has come
close to depicting a fictional world of what holistic sustainability solutions
might look like, even feel like. Any suggestions of existing or planned works
that would fit the bill?

Odds are that breakthrough art successfully depicting sustainability will feature or draw upon urban culture in some fashion. After all, cities have gone from being perceived as the opposite of what the “environmental movement” has been trying to save, to the epicenter of this new revolution that is launching in a city or neighborhood near you.

 

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

 

 


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Limiting Sprawl’s Economic and Resource Toll: California Law SB 375

Yesterday a special all-day confab in San Francisco hashed over the state and local impacts of California SB 375, the first statewide anti-sprawl measure in America, which was signed into law in September.

The law will be historic if it can hold its center.

Sprawl causes greater greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution than more compact urban or suburban development that is served by transit, walking and biking. 

Current research now points to sprawl as helping set the 2007 real estate meltdown into motion. The first foreclosure crisis occured when rapidly rising gas prices began to make long commutes more than people could afford in torid Sun Belt locations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and California’s San Bernardino County.

A study released this week by my firm Common Current provides data that demonstrates how car-dependent mainly post ’50s suburbs have been hemmhoraging value, whereas central cities and suburbs served by good transit, walkability, bikeability and high telecommuting rates have held their value.

Senate Bill 375 will use carrots (permit expediting, special funding) and sticks (withholding federal transit funding) to make sure local government and developers build closer to existing or planned transit and take into account how much people will have to drive as a result of  proposed projects.

“Now we can do regional planning with teeth,” said Peter Calthorpe, the long-time Smart Growth planner and head of Calthorpe Associates. “We have to determine just how sharp those teeth are.”

 

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While the sprawled regions of the US host a disproportionate amount of residential foreclosures, these outer rings also demand a disproportate share of service- and oil-dependent infrastructure (asphalt alone went up more than 300% between September 2005 and September 2008), proving mighty costly to government. 

The anti-sprawl bill provides regional land use and transportation guidance for the state’s expansive and historic AB 32. Passed in 2006, AB 32 aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 70 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. The California Air Resources Board is guiding the AB 32 policy body and enforcement with Goverernor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, the CalTrans highway agency, and regional policy agencies.

SB 375 provides the state a new trowel for shaping the developed footprint of the Golden State’s 163,000 square miles so it can limit carbon-hungry car-centric planning and construction. Besides encouraging infill, the intent is to stymie easy development of exurban agricultural land, wildlife habitat and natural resources. 

“SB 375 demonstrates we can get big complicated things done…in transportation, land use and environmental protection,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, California Senate President Darrell Steinberg in a video. “Together we have provided the template for Congress and other states.” 

Senator-elect Mark Leno was present in the flesh, and he laid out how sprawl–non-dense, unconnected, auto-dependent exurban or suburban development–was a form of development that has seen its day. “How we plan and construct the community of tomorrow will literally determine our future.

Backed by the California Building Industry, The California Alliance for Jobs, many regional governmental and transit organizations, SB 375 contains designations for market-rate and affordable housing near transit, but not jobs near transit. This was a concern for some, as was how to garner basic program funding with decreased federal highway funding and a state budget meltdown.

Joked Steinberg, “I have 28 billion good reasons why I’m not in San Francisco,” his video image said, referring to budget deficit meetings with the Governor.

Meanwhile, one member of the California Legislature called 375 not a great leap but instead “baby steps.”  

“Baby steps?” I asked.

“Baby steps.”

 

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