Millennial City – How a new generation can save the future, Ch 10-1

January 24th, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Millennial City | Comments Off

This is the final chapter of our forthcoming book, Millennial City, with the conclusion to follow in this initial serial blog version of the book. The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 1 of Chapter 10. 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 Ten – Part 1
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

For cities at a crossroads, it’s time to step into the future. Cities are in competition with one another. And no matter what anyone says, none of us has all the answers. Taking responsibility is a good place to start. Cities have a responsibility to change the world and time is running out. There’s just too much at risk. Most of us don’t understand the nature and magnitude of the situation. Our way of life is unsustainable and largely unjust. The rate of consumption is generating alarming global problems.

This book doesn’t have all the answers. There aren’t enough words and you don’t have enough time anyway. In this chapter we will take on the question, “Where are we going with this?” Or more importantly, “Where is all of this going to take you?” That’s the mystery. Change happens on the unconscious level, and often happens without you even noticing. A day starts out like any other day when suddenly an idea pops into your head. You might dismiss it. But it keeps coming back.

It doesn’t matter what the idea was, eventually it captures your imagination. Days go by. You keep dreaming about the possibilities. Then, one day you make the decision to go for it. You’re on your way. Of course, everybody’s view of the world is different. If you think life is wonderful you will notice the wonderful things in your life, but of course the opposite is true as well. Change your thoughts and you can begin to change the world you’re living in. That can be a long process. Take time to think about your preferred future. Take time every day to think about where you want to be in life. Something will happen. The same is true for cities. Managing both the opportunities and challenges of cities is vital. So, if we agree that cities are in trouble and have the potential to lead change, what is the route we should take?

Will the solution be a technological fix? That’s an interesting question as well, and we have little doubt that technology will play a key role in saving the future. But at the same time that tech fixes are pursued, America is likely to return to its agrarian roots. We’re predicting a “Back to the Future” way of life for many Americans. There’s a growing demand for natural, healthy locally grown food. Small farmers and ranchers are about to experience a Renaissance. The family farm will enjoy a resurgence, enough to make American farm families a good living. If you’re up for it, you can actually farm right in the middle of a city. There may be very little choice.

Ever since China entered the World Trade Organization America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. Strangely, China lost even more manufacturing jobs at the same time. Where did the jobs go? Well, they went to the service sector. America is long past the stage of putting hundreds of thousands of workers back on assembly lines doing repetitive jobs. That’s in the past. Manufacturing is going to come back, but it will never employ people in those kinds of numbers again. America needs to look to the future. Yes we said that urban farming is part of the future, but that is a niche, not a full economic development strategy. A bigger strategy for cities is more likely to be attracting smart people and business investment.

If urban policy does not include the development, attraction, and retention of talent, it doesn’t have a prayer of making a real difference for cities. Without concentrated talent you can’t create high prosperity. You, the smart, young, ambitious person are the prize.

The Downtown Denver Partnership is one enterprise that understands this. Mountains and oceans are really nice if they are available, but they have become secondary to downtown amenities. Young talent has priorities. And the Mile High City has made itself an attractive place for young workers. Denver has created a vibrant center complete with high density, mixed use and walkable neighborhoods.

Another city that gets it and is reaping the rewards is Pittsburgh. A decade ago, young people were leaving. The 20-something, professional and educated workers they needed to move their economy forward could see no future in Pittsburgh. The message: either get younger and better educated, or get poorer. Today, Pittsburgh has much to offer young people, from jobs to high quality of life and affordability and they’re coming out on top. Quite simply, in a flattening world, the places with the greatest concentrations of talent win!
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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]