Fri Jul 8th, 2005 at 06:29:14 AM EST
NOTE: This diary is also posted at Greenstate, a community blog made up of Kossacks who wish to discuss environmental issues and policy goals. Check us out!
Under the Bush Administration, the U.S. has completely abandoned its leadership role on environmental issues, ranging from international treaties like Kyoto to developing renewable energy sources here at home. That's the bad news. But the good news is that we no longer have to look to the federal government for action on environmental problems, as city governments are increasingly leading the way in advancing a sustainable way of life.
Far from being a backup option to federal action, cities are uniquely positioned to influence long-term trends in land use, through mixed-use zoning laws and city planning built around local communities. The use of what has been called the New Urbanism can alleviate traffic problems, prevent continuing suburban sprawl, create livable communities, and revitalize downtown sections of major cities, all of which will lead to more prosperous, safer cities. In addition to the many social benefits, smart growth strategies can also solve many environmental problems, by drastically reducing fuel usage and pollution, and encouraging the use of mass transit. Take a look at some computer simulated photos to see how smart growth development can work in the real world. Very cool!
Not only are many cities leading the way in smart growth development, they are forming new coalitions of progressive mayors and legislators that can pool together resources and ideas, and serve as an alternative to the current domination of conservative ideology at the federal level. Groups like the New Cities coalition are now aggressively moving forward with progressive ideals, and effectively circumventing the federal government. Whereas the Bush Administration has repeatedly opposed the Kyoto Treaty, and refused to take the threat of global warming seriously, mayors across the country have now agreed to voluntarily abide by Kyoto's targets for reducing greenhouse emissions. What's more, progressive cities are now taking legislation stalled at the federal level and applying it at the local level, including everything from minimum wage laws to promoting renewable energy (always a favorite of mine).
Nor is the trend of active, progressive cities limited to America, as was shown with the recent World Environment Day in San Francisco. Mayors from around the world signed the first ever Urban Environmental Accords, an international treaty designed to help usher in a sustainable way of life for the 21st century. The treaty sets a number of admirable goals, to be reached in seven years, in the following areas:Energy
While the treaty may be nonbinding, it is not merely a symbolic gesture of defiance at the Bush Administration. After all, the vast majority of the population still resides in cities, with a corresponding share of the economy, and this treaty creates a much-needed blue print to redesigning our cities for a sustainable future. Changes at the local level can and will percolate up to the state and eventually the federal level. As Joel Rogers at the Nation puts it:
It is time for progressives to reconsider and realign our views on cities--the most productive and most sustainable centers of our economy, the most vital and generous centers of our culture and, potentially, the most democratic and forward-looking of our many units of government. It is time to recognize that properly organized and empowered metropolitan governments--which link cities and suburbs in pursuit of goals that cannot be achieved separately--may hold the key to rebuilding an American economy of broadly shared prosperity. And it is time, above all, to understand that these perspectives are not unduly optimistic; indeed, they are the sentiments being expressed by the mayors and City Council members who have come to refer to themselves as "new urbanists," and who are beginning to coalesce in the burgeoning New Cities and Cities for Progress movements.
So maybe it's time we stop spending all of our time fighting bad legislation at the federal level, and start turning our energy towards the local level. Nothing gives me more hope for the future than to see progressive cities around the world embrace the principles of the new urbanism, and to take seriously the need to build a sustainable economy. By targeting our efforts at progressive cities, the environmental movement can achieve real, substantial victories, instead of constantly fighting a defensive battle with the federal government. Even if the federal government continues to resist the sea changes occurring in urban planning and resource use, action by progressive cities creates the possibility for a smooth transition from the fossil fuel era to one built on renewable energy and a sustainable economy. Allow me to finish with another quote by Rogers:
We cannot abandon our struggles at the federal and state levels. But we need to turn more of our attention to the hometown fights that are far more winnable than distant battles in Washington. We always say we're for grassroots politics. Well, the grassroots are growing in our cities.