This article, co-authored with Steve Dubb and Thad Williamson, originally appeared in Solutions Journal
Americans face a unique challenge in solving the climate crisis. Unlike other Western countries and Japan, where population is projected to be relatively constant, the U.S. population is set to grow by at least 100 million—and likely 150 million—people by 2050. Where and under what conditions these people live present serious challenges to sustainability planning. American cities today are so spatially and economically unstable that anything beyond superficial sustainability planning is impossible.
Alternatively, we can radically change existing community and regional planning strategies to more sustainably house and serve the growing population. Fortunately, emerging approaches are capable of helping with this shift. One involves building local economies that anchor capital in place through community, worker, or public forms of ownership—so-called green community wealth strategies. By linking such stabilizing forms of economic organization to democratic forms of local, regional, and national planning, cities can regain the capacity to target jobs and investment to specific locations.
Beyond Throwaway Cities
A good starting point is a clear understanding of America’s “throwaway city” habit. Simply put, as jobs move in and out of cities in uncontrolled ways we literally throw away housing, roads, schools, hospitals, and public facilities—only to have to build the same facilities elsewhere at great financial, energy, and carbon costs. All the while, the instability makes it impossible to carry out coherent transportation and high-density housing planning.
The most dramatic examples are places like Detroit and Cleveland, where the devastated landscape in many areas looks like bombed-out World War II cities. But these cases are not exceptional. Of the 112 largest U.S. cities in 1950 with populations over 100,000, 56—fully half of them—had experienced population decline by 2008. The people moved elsewhere, where all the usual facilities had to be built anew to serve them—and, built under conditions that were inherently likely to be subject to future instability and disruption. Read More