With all this talk and action around cutting carbon emissions by cities and states, there is a rare opportunity to impact the other side of the ledger: economic and community enrichment coming from healthier, more vibrant planning and living.
Portland, Oregon, featured in today's New York Times, for instance, was the first U.S. city to develop carbon-reduction goals in 1993. Today, the city has walkable neighborhoods, free public transportation, a booming economy, and one of the hottest local foods scenes outside pricey San Francisco Bay Area.
These strategies were based on the consideration, planning and execution of much more than just carbon reduction. Portland has preserved its open space, so farmland and vineyards are available nearby to supply all those farmers markets (thirteen in a town of 500,000, a significant amount) and trendy restaurants. As the Times article headlined: "Chefs flock to a City Where Food Is The Star, Produce is Stellar and Real Estate is Cheap".
Portland's carefull planning, neighborhood redevelopment and green building strategies are also reaping epic rewards in real estate valuation. The enigmatic Brewery Blocks of the city's Pearl District, only recently a dingy post-industrial neighborhood, is now the most desired location in the Great Northwest for residents, local businesses owners and anyone who sets foot or rides a rail in town. A developer bought the Brewery Blocks in 1999 for $19.5 million and just sold three of the buildings in the blocks for $291.6 million to JP Morgan Asset Management.
Take a look at Denver, which spearheaded the nation's largest public transit ballot measure a few years back, before cutting carbon was de rigueur.
Now Denver is on the cusp of a jolt from its transit oriented development economic strategy. In the first year of light rail expansion, 2005, public transit ridership rates increased more than 10 percent. Businesses are thrilled to have opportunities to locate in high foot traffic areas with bikeways, walkways and events. Besides creating a more compelling destination for people or businesses that want to relocate, people get healthier walking more.
The city hopes to maintain such excitement over its ten year build out.
During this period, Denver is designing infill mixed-use housing to accompany the business, shopping and entertainment along transit lines. The end result is that the city's non-automotive access will make life more convenient and engaging for residents, businesses and tourists, while reducing local air pollution.
Oh, and the carbon outputs decrease.
Other cities of all sizes are chasing cleantech industry development. In this red-hot business sector, reduction means a very nice gain for regional economies. Unlike old industrial centers, cleantech has smaller scale nimble production; cleantech is built around intellectual capital more than massive production lines. It will also be more distributed to meet the needs of exploding demand in local markets for solar, green building, alternative fuels and advanced transportation.
Cleantech and carbon busting are creating economic development options that must be weighed and capitalized upon as local carbon reduction plans go into effect.
For instance in cleantech industry incubation, Austin and San Jose may have the early-mover advantage for massive scale, but other locales including Troy-Albany, New York (fuel cells); Seattle and Portland (biodiesel) ; Atlanta (green building technologies) are forging vital innovation centers. Other hubs and minihubs serving these massive potential markets will surely emerge.
Finally, there is the tree planting part of carbon-reduction plans. Should this be part of an international or local program? International efforts will be critical, of course. But even more important to local community development will be deciding strategies for regional wildlife diversity and preservation, including parks and urban canopies. Trees can even be used to reduce heat gain in buildings. Properly placed shade trees can reduce building energy cooling costs by up to 50 percent a year.
As carbon-reduction plans get into the nitty gritty of fleets, energy sources, landfills, and buildings, communities must carefully consider how the very fabric of their lives can be improved through integrated sustainable planning, land use, and economic development. If your eyes glaze at the mention of those words, think instead eating, drinking, enjoying family and friends, recreating, shopping, working, preserving nature and enriching local culture--which of course is defined by local knowledge and ways of life.
Sounds like more a more tangible and interesting future than one guided solely by a carbon-reduction action plan model, doesn't it?