Hurdle for future cities: human habits
Technology will not solve all green problems, some say.
(Page 2 of 2)
But when Ms. Chase started, borrowing the idea of communal automobiles from Europe, people told her the idea would never work in the United States. Now Europeans are trying to expand their programs with limited success and people say that car sharing is an American thing. For Chase, the contradiction drives home the importance of effectively marketing new environmental programs.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“It’s not as if you can say, here we did it in this one city and it will definitely work elsewhere. It can work and succeed in a city, and it can work and fail in a city,” she says.
Cities act on their own
Aside from cultural considerations, geography further complicates transferring energy systems from one city to another. While solar power might slash Arizona’s energy use, for example, in Seattle, which rarely sees the sun, residents rely more on hydropower.
“There is no silver bullet and it’s impossible for me or any other person to come in and say ‘Thou shalt do the following and you’ll be decreed a green city,’ ”
says Stephen Hammer, director of the urban energy program at Columbia University in New York City. “It’s just totally location specific.”
Which is perhaps why some of the biggest green pushes have come from city rather than federal or state governments. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, for example, has gotten more than 700 mayors to agree to help their cities meet or beat the targets outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to end climate change.
“City government is the layer of government that’s really closest to the people,” says James Elsen, president and CEO of Sustain Lane, an online company based in San Francisco that works with cities to become more environmentally friendly. “[Greening cities] is being institutionalized. It’s on the docket of city councils. There’s a real budget ascribed to it. If they don’t have departments or offices of stainability they’re opening them and they’re hiring personnel. It’s being driven by real economics and good planning for the future.”
Most ecominded urban planners agree that in order for the necessary changes to take place, some level of government must support and enforce these new practices. If they do, fast growing cities, which change between 1 to 5 percent a year on average, could be completely renewed within 25 to 40 years.
“If the right change environment exists, within one to three generations, statistically speaking, a city could be renewed and transformed if the mechanisms exist to avoid a replication of the old practices,” says Droege.
“Cities have evolved over time. Paris is not the Paris you had 200 years ago where you had horses. The culture is there and the civilization is there, but the city has evolved,” says the Masdar Initiative’s Mr. Awad, who points out that just a few decades ago Paris didn’t have a subway system. “All cities are evolving all the time.… Masdar is just using what Paris and London are doing and amalgamating it all into one place because we can afford to do it.”
Correspondent Matt Bradley contributed to this report from Abu Dhabi.