Monday, January 26, 2009

Resilient Cities

I just attended a hopeful presentation by Australian urbanist Peter Newman on his concept of Resilient Cities. We're at the toxic intersection of several trends: peak oil, global warming, and scattered, car-dependent residential growth fueled lately by subprime mortgages. According to data he presented from the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy (Nov. 2008), "the underlying trend in the price of oil is 6 percent growth per year." Combine this with the IEA's recent World Energy Outlook that says the "natural annual rate of [oil output] decline is 9.1 percent from 2009" and it becomes pretty obvious that massive changes in our energy and transportation infrastructure and technology are around the bend.

Newman lists four courses the modern city may take:

Collapse: It's happened before and could happen again. Newman cited the ancient examples of Ephesus and Babylon, and while total abandonment seems less likely in today's world, a tour through Rust Belt American cities such as Gary, Indiana, should suffice as a warning of potential decay.

Ruralization: Food production moves to the cities somewhat, as happened in Havana when the Soviet Union cut off energy supplies. Total ruralization with every apartment complex growing its own food seems unlikely because it would disrupt the whole logic of the city as an opportunity factory.

Division: Wealthy eco-enclaves will coexist with and be surrounded by Mad Max suburbs. This is a highly probable outcome if market forces play out sans smart urban and regional planning. This pattern is already prominent in the developing world where gated communities abut slums.

Resilience: Combining all the dream elements of renewable energy, distributed systems, smart grids, carbon neutrality, and sustainable transport, resilient cities are basically environmental utopias--only impossible if viewed as overnight projects. Alone among these four types, resilient cities are founded on hope not fear, though division, ruralization, and collapsing neighborhoods may all accompany the transition to resilience.

Newman focused today on the fact that land use follows transport, thus illustrating the importance of public transit-oriented development. His sense is that the stimulus and transportation initiatives of the Obama era must move dollars from freeway construction to sustainable options. Spending $100 million per mile on a freeway, as Houston did, seems like Stone Age economics at this point.

I suggested to him that transition to high gas mileage electric vehicles (100+ mpg) might forestall investment in public transit, but he seemed optimistic that, given the bigger picture of climate change pressuring the economy, plug-in cars and vehicle-to-grid technologies will prove a win-win situation. Let's hope he's right.

1 comment:

tapsearcher said...

Is it a money crisis or a human nature crisis?
Is human nature on trial?

Money products were the first to be globalized - see

See also Lend Lease was real Free Trade and not Chop Liver as in the Globalist World at

The massive deflation of the value of workers and labor triggered the money crisis..........

First of all, so called free trade is not trade as historically defined and practiced. It is primarily about making production portable ready to be moved from place to place for the sake of cheaper labor. When factories come and go they leave behind conditions worst than before they came. Mexico and in many places in the Far East.

It is senseless to devalue labor and workers who are also consumers.
The cheaper imports come but this results in a new working poor class in the USA and underclass stayed frozen in time as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans exposed. Both find it more difficult to afford even the cheaper imports at places like Walmart

Our economies based on making money on money instead of making things are burning out. The value of labor and workers as suffered a severe deflation cycle. This value is a real tangible asset and acts as a money standard especially when paper money is an intangible value requiring the manipulation of transactions to produce value.

Free traders keep harping about protectionism and how it caused the depression. In the roaring 1920s it was all about the manipulation of money values and we had both periods of free trade and tariffs. The stock market crashed in 1929 and it was about a money crisis and not about trade.

The Smooth Hawley act was passed in 1930 after the crash and free traders use this as an example of how protectionism causes depressions.

The Smooth Hawley never really got off the ground since there was a money crisis and no one had money to do much of anything but excite wars.

President Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and in 1934, he was given the option of raising or lowering tariffs in a new trade agreement act. This too was non-applicable because the money crisis. Then we suddenly were into the wars and President Roosevelt unleashed the Lend Lease Act to provide goods to our allies no matter what.

Roosevelt said he was not going to let the dollar sign stand in his way. In the ensuing years, the most awesome industrial power the world has ever known was created without money being the issue. This industrial power won World War 2.

The real core value of this industrial might was the value of workers and labor used as assets to create commerce.

Lets start telling it like it was and like it is too.

For more info and resources, see - asking is it a money crisis or is it a human nature crisis.