Millennial City: How a new generation can save the future, Ch7-2

November 17th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Millennial City | Comments Off

This book, Millennial City is being released first as a serial blog. The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 2 of Chapter 7. We will publish Millennial City as an e-book when the serialization is completed. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.

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CHAPTER Seven – Part 2
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

The future can’t be allowed to mimic the past. The “margin of safety” where Nature can accommodate humanity’s mistakes is perilously thin. We’re running out of clean space, clean air, clean water. Cities will face decreasing access to resources while reducing bloated carbon levels will be the most difficult challenge of this century.

We are in a race; a race between what is and what could be. The decline of weakly managed large cities is neither inevitable nor irreversible. But we have to make decisions with the knowledge that they will affect a generation that we will never see. The good news is that climate change is intimately connected with each of the other environmental problems, so in solving climate change we can help to solve other environmental problems, and by solving other environmental problems, we can likewise help reduce the problem of climate change.

There’s good news. Times of stress create opportunities. We live at a time when our lives can make a dramatic difference in the world. We need to come back to life with great neighborhoods. To do that, we need to be smart and innovative. Strong and healthy cities with strong and healthy citizens are imperative for successfully dealing with any economic or social challenge we may face in years to come.

But cities are complex systems and our knowledge of them is still in its infancy. For our cities and towns to function as successful people habitat, we must make them great. Our future world will adopt drastically different approaches and practices. It will require a worldwide improvement in energy efficiency and conservation and a revolution in land use practices. Future cities will go beyond compliance with existing laws and anticipate and plan actions to prevent problems.

IBM gets it. Their Smarter Cities Challenge provides consulting and technology assistance to 100 cities worldwide – half of these are in North America – to help cities come up with plans and strategies. Cities like Pittsburgh focus on Smarter Planet industries – ones that use data, interconnectedness and intelligence to make the world work better.

Some cities are making a comeback. Cities competing for position among their global peers are re-branding themselves. They are becoming breeding grounds for new ideas, new forms of expression, and new waves of economic growth. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, and the highest rate of metabolism. Cities have long been incubators and transmitters of ideas, and, correspondingly, engines of economic growth.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says cities will need to innovate just as much as corporations; that cities can and will move decisively to tackle infrastructure gaps, improve planning, and foster high-productivity jobs. City governments – with or without the support of their national governments — will be expected to provide adequately for needed physical infrastructure.

Great cities will empower their leaders to drive innovation, reducing the barriers they face, and supporting all those who keep challenging the status quo with innovative new ideas. But real world market forces and the business climate will prove to be far more powerful in shaping our economic future than any attempt by government to pick winners among industries.

There is a challenge to innovating in government. Mayors and elected officials must keep at least one eye on the next election. Public dollars are scarce. It is hard enough to fund existing basic needs let alone new experiments. The temptation is always to hunker down and do little or nothing to change things. Even in better times, it is challenging to use taxpayer dollars when the possibility of failure is real. Likewise, reform in the financial sector will be crucial to the development of innovation that is both sustainable and affordable.

Tomorrows innovative materials and “smart systems” will offer dramatic reductions in energy and natural resource consumption, increase resource productivity, and serve as a competitive differentiator. But companies cannot go it alone. Long-term economic growth requires state government to create a predictable and competitive business climate for all industries across the board. Cities will need programs that provide infrastructure for jobs that are no longer tied to location but are inextricably interdependent on the global economy.

Given the complexity of the world in which we live, and the unreliability of national governments, city leaders may need to focus more than ever before on the future – not to predict it, which is next to impossible – but to understand the kinds of forces driving their constituencies so they can best respond to them.

By 2030 over 5 billion people will live in urban areas, resulting in larger, busier cities. To mitigate the negative effects of a growing urban population, city planners will design cities with the precepts of “green urbanism” in mind.” Tomorrow more than ever, the constructive power of science, technology, and innovation will propel humankind to new levels of global well-being. Innovation will meet any number of visions aimed at reducing the global footprint and decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts.

The UNEP points to a sustainable or “green” economy as the one in which growth in income and employment will drive public and private investments and reduce carbon emissions and pollution. The green economy will enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. In future, green economic and environmental laws will be clear, even-handed, and enforceable. Environmental decision makers – public and private – will be held accountable for their decisions ensuring the cost of environmental degradation is born by polluters themselves rather than by the public.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]