Weekly News Roundup: New Plans and Programs Announced
Washington: President Obama announces Climate Action Plan
On Tuesday at Georgetown University President Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his vision for the country’s response to climate change. In his well-crafted call for action, Obama tactfully dismissed skeptics and the question of whether or not to act at all, asking instead ‘whether we have the courage to act before it’s too late’. He also made sure to address the question of economic growth, asserting that ‘a low-carbon clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come’. Read the full transcript of his speech here.
The primary components the executive vision are reducing carbon pollution, preparing for the impacts of climate change, and being an international leader in cutting carbon emissions. As part of the strategy to reduce carbon pollution, one of Obama’s main directives was for the EPA to complete new carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, which are responsible for 40% of America’s carbon pollution. He also asserted that his plan would help America double its clean energy and set important standards for wasting less energy. If you are curious for the specifics and want an idea about the range of policies in the plan, take a look at the entire Climate Action Plan here.
Across the U.S.: More than 50 elected officials sign campaign for resilience
The Resilient Communities for America Agreement is a call for action for the local leaders of America to help America’s cities, towns, and counties to overcome the challenges of extreme weather caused by climate change, unreliable and costly energy, and economic uncertainty. This agreement, signed by mayors of more than 50 cities, includes commitments to reduce the community’s carbon footprint, to transition to a renewable energy future, to implement energy efficiency programs, and to harness innovations in information technology and green infrastructure.
New York: Bloomberg plans to launch composting program
The New York Times has reported that the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg will soon announce that it is hiring a composting plant to handle up to 100,000 tons of food waste a year. Food waste represents the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills, and is responsible for generating methane- a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing climate change. Working initially on a volunteer basis in homes, schools, and high-rises, the program is expected to become mandatory and expand to the entire city by 2015 or 2016. Ron Gonen, Deputy Sanitation Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability, was quoted to say that diverting food waste and other organic materials could save the city about $100 million a year.
Shenzhen, China: China’s first carbon market
In the first of 7 city-based carbon trading pilot projects, Shenzhen established a platform allowing businesses to trade permits to emit carbon. Companies are assigned emissions quotas and can sell excess permits to other firms if they emit below their quota. Trading began last week. The plan to open similar projects in other areas of China by the end of this year includes the nation’s capital Beijing, major commercial center Shanghai, and the port city of Tianjin. Although the project won’t necessarily produce significant emissions reductions and China has no overall targets to reduce absolute carbon emissions, some believe this could be a step to a nationwide carbon market.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.
Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.
Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.
The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.
Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.