New Years post #2: sustainability and energy
When I worked last fiscal year in Baltimore County, I was struck how both there and in Baltimore City, there are big initiatives concerning sustainability, and how at least in the case of Baltimore County, if sustainable transportation wasn't a priority in its own right, it was addressed in part through the Office of Sustainability and the citizen commission guiding it. With the new Kamenetz Administration, the Office of Sustainability is being merged into the agency that had been called DEPRM, the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. (It happens that on environmental protection issues at the county level, Baltimore County is a national leader.)
-- Baltimore City Office of Sustainability webpage including the plan
-- Baltimore County green building webpage
-- Arlington Community Energy and Sustainability Plan Competitive Community of the Future (in development)
-- Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
The only answer, he argues, is to start correcting the spread-out, energy-profligate patterns in how we use our land. In other words, a return to true urbanism, the historic patterns of relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in the decades following World War II.
Also from the article:
Fighting to reduce our oil and coal burning and combat global warming, much of the buzz surrounds such new “green” technologies as solar and wind power, industrial efficiency, and fuel efficient cars. But add up all the potential carbon savings they promise, argues Calthorpe, and we’ll still fall far short of reducing the United States’ grossly disproportionate use of fossil fuels and contribution to globe-imperiling climate change. ...
It’s as if, Calthorpe alleges, we’d gone on a “fast food, high-carbon diet” that let our metropolitan regions, where most of us live, “become obese” through our heavy dependence on oil — “a high-sugar and high-starch diet,” expanding the urban waistline, ballooning our output of carbon into the global atmosphere “without nourishing strength or resilience.”
The only cure, he argues, must be return to a robust urbanism of efficiently shaped and planned cities and regions.
So what’s urbanism? You can recognize it by what it delivers, suggests Calthorpe. It is places that feature a diversity of uses — homes, shops, libraries, parks, schools — mixed closely so they’re walkable (or easily bikable). It balances cars with public transit. It supports a rich public life. And it’s cities and other urban places that create, on a per capita basis, the least carbon emissions. (New Yorkers, famously, emit a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of the typical American).
Urbanism, Calthorpe insists, can come in many forms, scales, or density. It’s not just a big city model. Many of our traditional small towns, village centers and streetcar suburbs, with their mixed uses and walkability, are as “urban” as historic city centers.
Calthorpe's book on the topic, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Age, has just been published by Island Press.
The trick "locally" is to leverage the interest in the environment and sustainability to better focus local energies on sustainable transportation (walking, biking, transit), and sustainable land use development (compact development), and better resource management (urban agriculture, urban forestry, water sources, watershed).
In DC at least, I joke that big government--the federal government--trickles down and shapes little government--the local municipal government--in its image. So it's top down and not very much focused on civic engagement and participatory democracy, unlike say Arlington County, which is much more citizen-centric.
A new year and a new administration offers opportunity to change, to raise the issues, to take up a different way of doing things.