An Urbanist Manifesto

Glenn Robert Erikson, PhD, AIA
CUNY Baruch
glenn.erikson.phd@gmail.com

Our Global Problem Statement:

Humanity has now entered the Anthropocene Age, a geologic age demonstrably different from all others, identifiable by its pronounced human activity. As with the Mesozoic (the Dinosaur Era) and the Quaternary (the Ice Ages), there will be certain traits left in sedimentary rocks currently forming that will tellingly identify our Anthropocene Age. Already, we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on our planet, radioactive isotopes from atomic blasts and accidents have spread worldwide, toxic industrial wastes have left their record on every continent and in every ocean, and the effects of global warming from CO2 and Methane atmospheric releases have already left markers such as acidifying oceans, and are beginning to leave many more. Any one or all of these could potentially be used as the geologic signature for our presence, depending on their ultimate severity. Alternatively, the continued evolution of our shared civilization, begun several millennia ago, into a vital and geologically sustainable civilization could also be the signature of our presence. This is our collective choice.

If it is to be the latter, our Western civilization has a good many problems to solve first. Civilizations are urban in nature. Today, the one quarter of our population which lives in dense urban areas produces three quarters of our Gross World Product (the sum of every nation‚Äôs Gross National Product), so our problems and their solutions begin in our cities. In the Anthropocene Age, there is an identity between the urban and the natural: cities have become just one more part of the Anthropocene‚Äôs natural world. To put this in perspective, many seemingly rural problems are in fact urban in nature, e.g. strip coal mining is caused by urban power needs. Plus, the urban/rural is swallowing up our wilderness areas; in the last 20 years we‚Äôve lost a further 10% of our wilderness. What was once considered the ‚Äúgreat wilderness‚ÄĚ now occupies less than 20% of global land mass. Urban stresses will only continue to increase: while the world‚Äôs population is expected to double in the next 50 years, there is a mass migration from rural areas to urban areas occurring as well. As a result, urban populations could easily quadruple in the next 50 years, with much of those populations in the developing world where infrastructure, jobs, and health care are severely lacking. Should a significant proportion of this new population become consumers on a Western scale, one can only imagine how much more rapidly our non-renewable resources will become depleted. Plus, the majority of these urban areas are in coastal locations where sea levels could rise three to ten feet in this century, and a total of ten to thirty feet over the next 100-200 years if global warming is not halted. While this is occurring, our cities have an aging infrastructure, an increasing divide in income and wealth, and a diminishing middle class. Furthermore, we are witnessing a depletion of our economically viable natural resources, while our oceans are not only rising, but also acidifying and warming.

Compounding these issues, multi-national conglomerates are making their profits in the developed world’s urban areas, yet are moving their manufacturing jobs, profits, and taxes off-shore, depleting many of our older cities of the very resources they need to help pay for the costs of their stressed environments. Trickle-down/supply-side economics and neo-liberal/laissez-faire capitalism, while perhaps great in the short run for large corporations and the wealthy, are no longer working for our cities or our citizens. The creation or replacement of vital infrastructure, affordable housing, creative cultural facilities, livable and walkable downtowns, a jobs/housing balance to minimize commuting, and so many other urban needs are not being produced at the rates we need them, and where they are being produced, the post-modern architectural nature of their design often produces a placeless-ness with a resulting lack of civic or regional identity. Finally, as our society stresses over all its various problems, a significant portion of our population is turning to illicit drugs for relief. Sadly, it is becoming apparent that too many national, state, and provincial policymakers are locked into old stratagems to solve our urban problems, too many of which can only be labeled as post-colonial, racist, and sexist.

In the face of these challenges, we must understand that previous societal collapses have occurred not out of the environmental and cultural problems that previous cultures have faced, but rather out of poor responses to their specific challenges. The theories of past societal collapses by our leading theorists and historians Jared Diamond, Joseph Tainter, and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson all agree on this central point.1,2,3

If our urban problems are left unchecked, and we simply continue down the road we are now on, the catastrophic but natural result will be that some of our cities will collapse. Given the interconnectedness of our global societies, this may well lead to regional and potentially a global collapse. I believe our only choice is to turn away from this path to build vital, sustainable communities, and given the lack of concern by some national, state, and provincial governments, we will need to focus our efforts at the urban/regional level.

Therefore, let us reject and combat:

An Anthropocene Age characterized by global climate change, nuclear waste, toxicity, and mass extinction.

An urbanity that assimilates the suburban and rural, consuming the entirety of Earth’s surface.

The rapid depletion of non-renewable resources, barring our offspring from making use of them as we do.

A neo-liberal/laissez-faire capitalism that views Western cities as a place to raise capital and make profits, while off-shoring taxes and blue-collar employment.

An urban economy characterized by high income inequality, a decline in the middle class, and, for the poor, a high degree of economic scarcity, high barriers to upward mobility, and too little public assistance to escape poverty.

The proposition that obtaining economic wealth and material possessions is more rewarding to humanity than learning, art, and community.

Deadening public spaces that are more likely to resemble an aging, vacant shopping mall or an antiseptic blight of sameness, than an inspirational model of human activity, culture, and civic pride. This is too often combined with an urban architecture that is overly regularized and inseparable from that of other cities.

Cities that lack sufficient amenities in the form of public commons4 for their citizens‚Äô needs.

Time and resource wasting commutes caused by jobs-housing imbalances that are fueled by a lack of adequate affordable and market rate housing close to job centers.

The inequities that cause economic, social and health costs on all of society.

The view that the poor are with us primarily because of their conscious decisions, rather than due to past and current social exclusion factors such as racial and sectarian discrimination, sexism, minimized representation in government, and especially inadequate public education.  

A war on drugs that has shown no perceptible decrease in drug use, but is directly associated with criminal activity, has wasted valuable public resources, and is enmeshed with a prison system that seek to punish instead of rehabilitate.

Welfare policies that create dependency instead of educate, train, and foster independence.

Political mindsets that deny the very existence of many of these problems, and instead seek to minimize change while maintaining the status quo of the wealthy and powerful.

While we seek to be guided by these principles:

As the world urbanizes, cities will become ever more powerful relative to national and state governments, and the focus of environmental, economic and cultural sustainability.

Governments cannot be aligned with the rich and powerful instead of the People and still fulfill society’s highest and most important goals.

Publicly funded mega-projects that primarily benefit the wealthy (i.e. new stadiums with $15,000/game skyboxes and excessively expensive general seating, corporate relocation incentives that exceed future tax benefits, etc.) are not in the public interest. Large for-profit corporations should utilize market financing instead of the public‚Äôs limited resources.

The Enlightenment’s proposition that scientific and industrial progress inevitably leads to societal progress has not proven to be true. Instead, societal progress flows from a well-educated and informed electorate, and progress in the sciences and technologies in turn flows from this. Thus, providing an excellent education is perhaps the most important role of prudent government.

Economic systems based on consumption of non-renewable resources and exploitation of any class of people cannot long survive.

Trickle-Up Economics is far superior to Trickle-Down Economics.

Entrepreneurial businesses located in urban areas lead in innovation and create the vast majority of new higher paying jobs. On the other hand, too many multi-national conglomerates seek to appease stock markets by downsizing and offshoring employment as they seek to reduce employee payroll costs, which negatively impact our cities and should be shunned.

Given the financial concept of the time value of money, the future value in 40 years of today‚Äôs assets in virtually negligible—therefore the proposition that profit-maximizing corporations should own and be in control of necessary public resources will necessarily lead to their unnecessary exploitation and wasting over the long term.

To use economic growth as the measure of urban vitality and personal well-being is to worship a false god.  A better measure of urban policy success would include the collective state of individual happiness.

Regrettably, only wars, revolutions, plagues, and socialism have reduced economic inequality in the past. If we are to better manage income and wealth inequality in the future, inheritance and progressive income tax measures will help in part, but in full measure it can only occur through measures such as a good education and appropriate incentives for the lower and middle classes to start investing while still young, to own their own homes, and become entrepreneurs in greater numbers.

A war on drugs based on persecuting those who are addicted, while failing to incarcerate those who are making huge profits, is bound to fail. Results over the past 50 years have proven this. Instead, we need to legalize those drugs that are no more harmful than alcohol, humanely treat addiction as a medical disease, and give recovered addicts the tools to succeed in life.

The path to reducing prison recidivism is placing effective therapy treatment, church programs, job training programs, and colleges within prison walls ‚Äď and not one or two of these, but all of them.

Attempting to create a global consumer society will inevitably result in a global environmental collapse from the twin combination of environmental degradation and resource depletion.

Diversity, tolerance and mutual support are the foundations of civic life.

Democracies cannot allow political campaigns to be run via wealthy donations to mass media negative attack blitzes and expect to survive long-term. A well-educated electorate informed through political debates, which are covered by a free and independent press, are the keys to a democratic government’s sustainability.

When national, state, and/or provincial governments fail to act on behalf of social justice or societal sustainability, urban governments and their citizens should undertake this responsibility themselves.

Any future Post-Materialist5 society will require a resource based, Collaborative Commons6 economy that provides a sufficiency of basic needs: affordable housing, public safety, basic health care, quality education, individual rights and freedoms, full employment with an ample supply of engaging jobs, and an economic safety net.  

Democracies that do not provide a sufficiency of basic economic needs are likely regress into more autocratic systems with laissez-faire economies as the populace seeks economic security.

Sustainability planning requires at least a 100 year look into the future.

And seek to implement these policies:

The Environment:

An active urban environmentalism in our Anthropocene Age is especially important for those cities where national, state, and/or provincial governments are simply not responding adequately to our urgent crises. Our environmental challenges noted above are immense. To meet these challenges, we need to put in place sustainable yet cost-effective solutions.

We must not only reduce the increase in global climate change, but also work to put policies in place that will actually reverse global warming by drawing down atmospheric greenhouse gases. We can do this if we7:

  • Halt construction of all new hydrocarbon power generating facilities.
  • Incentivize and provide target dates to convert hydrocarbon fuel use to renewables, and the use of other greenhouse affecting chemicals to sustainable substitutes.
  • Require all new buildings and significant renovations to be Net-Zero/LEED-certified, while incentivizing additional retrofits.
  • Install methane digesters in all landfills and include compost collection with all recycling.
  • Develop city-wide bicycle- and electric-powered mass transit transportation infrastructure.
  • Improve existing recycling programs for materials‚Äô reuse and efficient energy production, including composting with all collection programs.
  • Require airports and their airlines to more efficiently manage fuel use.
  • Tax high energy uses, while incentivizing the means to reducing their power needs.
  • In the developing world, build distributed solar power stations, adding grids to tie them together with storage capacity when and where possible.
  • Incentivize the bio-engineering research for economically affordable removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Create, protect, and manage as many forests region-wide as possible, as well as urban trees, for carbon sequestering and environmental cooling.

While working to implement these policies, coastal cities need to plan today for NOAA’s predicted range of a three- to ten-foot rise in sea levels during this generation’s lifetime with sea walls and gates, converting low lying areas to estuaries and parks and directing growth to higher ground. Implementation should begin soon as recent research indicated that the last major deglaciation and resultant sea level rise (totaling approximately 200 feet) did not occur gradually, but rather in steps of ten to thirty feet each, in periods of as little as several decades.

Cities must also protect and/or remove their residents from areas with known geologic hazards. Examples would include: no-build volcanic and tsunami zones, flood zones that anticipate future climate changes, and improved earthquake and hurricane construction standards.

In dry climates, water supplies generally need to be enhanced and water saving techniques expanded. Households should be allowed an appropriate amount of water per month; beyond that allotment, their rates should rise sufficiently to discourage wasteful usage.

Penalties for dumping toxic waste into the environment should be punitive, with corporate management held personally responsible when found guilty, both financially and criminally.

Urban regions should protect, minimize the use of, and/or recycle their non-renewable resources, with early emphasis on those that are likely to be depleted in the next century (i.e. many aquifers in arid areas, copper, lead, tin, zinc, several rare earth metals, as well as petroleum reserves), and promote public ownership of regionally strategic, non-renewable resources. Shareholder wealth-maximizing corporations intrinsically prefer short-term profitability over long-term sustainability, and thus are not appropriate stewards of our strategic, non-renewable resources. Similarly, the import/export components of the regional economies need to be developed and sustainably supported so that regional scarcities can be equitably offset through trading.

Ecological balance needs to be fostered so that, like those ancient cities that have survived into current times, today’s newer cities must establish themselves in balance with their surrounding ecologies. Such balancing will be unique to each city, but includes a region-wide analysis of ecosystems, sufficiency of water supplies given foreseeable climate change, regionally sustainable material sourcing, etc.

As we humans are the conscious agents of this world, it is we who ultimately decide which species live or die. We are thus responsible for creating a sustainable future for all life including ourselves. In order to both reduce the current rate of global extinctions and put our world on a sustainable path, we need to:

  • Preserve as much wilderness today as possible.
  • Slow overall population growth by providing family planning services, especially where growth is highest.
  • Improving women‚Äôs education and providing loans and education to assist women-owned business formation.
  • Shift global population growth to urban areas instead of rural and suburban areas where possible.
  • Incentivize a reduced demand for animal food sources in our diet, converting the grazing land no longer needed, where possible, to food crop agriculture.
  • Incentivize restoration and the efficient utilization of existing agricultural lands, including improved irrigation techniques, silvopasture, regenerative agriculture, and improving indigenous peoples‚Äô land management technologies.
  • Economic realignments caused by technological revolutions have been occurring every 50-60 years since the First Industrial Revolution.  We are in the midst of one now, associated with the new technologies of big data, artificial intelligence, robots, and the internet of things.
  • Grow crops as close to our city centers as possible, for example by maximizing urban rooftop gardening.
  • Minimize the use of all pesticides, and immediately eliminate the use of those that do not fully and safely decompose in a reasonable time.
  • Seek to minimize and eliminate regional crops and imported foods with DNA modified for pesticide resistance, substituting them with crops having DNA modified to enhance pest resistance. This strategy may be less profitable for Monsanto, but it will be far healthier for the planet.

Urban Economics:

Our urban economies can help foster and give shape to our current economic realignment. If current trends in income inequality are to be reversed, if poverty is to be reduced and the middle class is to be enlarged, and if gentrification is to be replaced with revitalization, then this next economic realignment will need to be channeled in appropriate ways. For example, policymakers need to focus on policies that improve quality of life instead of policies that foster the accumulation of consumer goods or wasting of valuable resources.

In this regard, while Michael Jensen‚Äôs ‚ÄúHarvard Business School Model,‚ÄĚ where the only interest of corporate managers should be towards shareholder wealth maximization did not reach its primacy until 1976, it unfortunately has already accomplished tremendous harm by minimizing the need for managers to value all the stakeholders in a firm business.8  

In reality managers are the employees of the company, not the shareholders, and taking a company public is just another form of financing corporate growth.  Shareholders should be treated similarly to other financial interests, though with the distinguishing right to buy and sell their shares in the marketplace.

Thus the often cited corporate purpose to ‚Äúmaximize short-term shareholder wealth‚ÄĚ needs to be substituted with:

serving customers by sustainably and ethically producing products and services at the highest quality for a given price point, and thereby maximizing long term, sustainable profits.

Company managers should be held directly responsible for managing all stakeholders‚Äô interests in a firm, including labor, suppliers, consumers, the public-at-large; and to sustainably and ethically produce their products and services, hopefully at the highest quality for a given price point. Urban governments can and should select corporate business relationships based in some part on their management‚Äôs statement of purpose, and regulate and enforce sustainable and ethical practices in their jurisdictions, while an open, efficient, and information-rich marketplace can help ensure companies are properly rewarded for the quality of their products and services.

In the economic geographies of past societies, successful cities were generally located on trade routes and/or controlled important resources, whereas the most successful cities in our future will be located on routes or flows of information. To do this they will need to be centers of learning and entrepreneurship, and be open to the process of creative destruction to stay in the forefront, and not be left behind. Urban areas will need to incentivize, nurture, and promote local firms and entrepreneurs, as those entities generally utilize regional resources, create the most jobs, and are committed to keep their work forces local. Importantly, these entities also pay their taxes locally. Cities need to stop subsidizing multinational conglomerate firms that too often move jobs, profits, and tax payments outside their region.

In an urban economic model, cities with distinct low-income/spatially segregated neighborhoods should:

  • Encourage greater entrepreneurship within these neighborhoods, especially for construction, service and emerging industries, via targeted education and mentoring programs, the use of family banks, enhanced savings options and women‚Äôs enterprise initiatives.
  • Minimize income, property and sales taxes on necessities that disproportionately affect the bottom one third of incomes.
  • Provide minimum wage and labor standards to protect workers without overly burdening consumers.
  • Promote welfare, disability, and unemployment programs that enhance the short term safety net while also reducing long-term economic dependency by creating jobs programs for regional industries, preferably enlisting the help of those firms experiencing the most job growth.
  • Equalize educational opportunities within the neighborhood to that of wealthy neighborhoods in their region and place better medical, education, and health care centers in these areas.
  • Develop medium-density, quality housing with long-term affordability, well dispersed throughout the city‚Äôs neighborhoods. Long-term affordable housing is especially needed for artists, as they often initiate through their own hard work the revitalized creative communities necessary for the cultural development of our urban areas, and are too often economically driven out by increased rents after their efforts create successful communities.
  • Increase enforcement of anti-racial steering laws.
  • Home ownership financing opportunities that low income wage earners can afford.
  • Promote an ethics that resists the creation and maintenance of class and racial barriers such as low-income housing that is almost invariably sited in low income neighborhoods, and differential spending on education that is almost invariably substantially higher in high-income neighborhoods.
  • Promote family planning with contraceptives, and where this is not possible due to local religious beliefs, utilize education, natural family planning, IUD‚Äôs, or other acceptable means.

An urban economy should not rely on multinational conglomerates to provide job and income growth for sustainable economic heath, nor should urban economies spend funds or reduce corporate tax rates to attract such companies (as they can leave for even lower rates elsewhere all too quickly), but should instead work closely with regional firms and especially nurture, promote, and incentivize local entrepreneurs.

Our urban economies need to embrace the current economic realignment,9 accepting the process of creative destruction as an engine for societal progress and income redistribution:

  • Allow entrenched economic interests of the old economy to decline and fail, rather than squander valuable public resources on what will likely be futile attempts to save them.
  • Encourage and support new, smaller, more creative entities and nimble entrepreneurial firms to flourish and create their region‚Äôs new jobs.
  • Develop worker retraining programs consistent with job growth.
  • Develop enhanced collaborative commons using Behavioral Economics while encouraging the new post-materialist sharing economy.
  • Legislate appropriate regulations to protect privacy and reduce the potential for future heightened income inequality as new economies develop.
  • Enhance the tax base to offset decreasing federal contributions (where occurring) by halting long-term give-away tax incentives, utilizing progressive property tax rates, plus taxing land and under-utilized properties in denser areas as if they were fully built out. The latter will not substantially impact building values, though it will decrease the amount of vacant land and underutilized property values in the city through providing an appropriate incentive to develop. This in turn will decrease the cost to develop new projects.
  • Create a 20% affordable housing requirement on all new multifamily development. This may need to be phased in over a three- to five-year period so as to not unfairly impact planned projects.
  • Incentivize and help capitalize private investment funds that invest in the region‚Äôs growth firms.
  • While current advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are to be embraced, care must be taken to keep sufficient opportunities available for our society‚Äôs welfare.
  • Enhance pro-growth ‚Äútrickle-up‚ÄĚ policies, as enhancing income growth among lower income families will give them greater capacity to purchase the goods and services of those in higher income brackets.

Each region’s trading and tourism economies should be developed and supported so they are of long-term value and interest to other regions, and of a nature and supply that is regionally sustainable.

  • Strengthen Regional Identity: Authentic regional distinctions and their associated cultural identities, which provide residents with an important element of their self-concept and contribute to a sense of belonging to a distinct and identifiable community, should be encouraged and promoted.
  • Strengthen Tourism: Develop the existing regional identity to assist year-round tourism as a vital sector of the regional economy and encourage authentic regional attractions and distinctions.

Existing privately owned and managed ‚ÄúEdge Cities‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúNew Urbanist‚ÄĚ developments should be incentivized to allow greater public ownership, access, and diversity, while also enhancing their connections to the rest of the city via mass transit.

Urban societies need to allow their members as much freedom of choice regarding work and lifestyles as possible, by encouraging a diversity of work opportunities, and an enhanced public and collaborative commons for differing work-life balances.  In addition, our urban economies need to minimize income inequality through inclusionary affordable housing in middle- and upper-income areas, enabling these residents better access to higher paying jobs and enhanced education for their children.

Finally, our urban economies must fund the infrastructure and marketplaces necessary to foster lower costs of transportation and goods.

Urban Governments.

Urban governments must move to control their own destiny while also protecting individual freedoms, freeing themselves from unnecessary shackles of state and federal governments. 

Voting on urban services and taxes, as well as planning, should be held at as wide a regional metropolitan level as possible.

  • These boundaries should be large enough to allow for regional planning, and thus may need to be realigned (or new multi-jurisdictional planning agencies should be created) from time to time. This will allow a better alignment of urban economic, infrastructure, and budgetary needs with affected voting interests, increasing the efficiency of the administration of large infrastructure projects, while minimizing the effect of outside interests that are often at odds with urban needs. 
  • Voting must be one person, one vote across all classes, ethnicities, races and genders, with appropriate venues for an in-depth discussion of issues before the vote.
  • US cities must seek to reduce incarceration rates (which are much too high), but also educate and train those incarcerated so that upon release, the incarcerated can immediately be placed into productive jobs with their voting rights given back to them.
  • Civic power relationships need to be refashioned so as to be as fair and proportionate to actual public needs as possible to better provide for economic and environmental sustainability and an enhanced quality-of-life of all members of urban society. Political redistricting that enhances citizen representation instead of concentrating political power together with meaningful steps to take money out of politics is key to urban political health.
  • Participatory Budgeting should be used, to encourage more socially responsible civic investment plus greater involvement with, and trust of, our civic institutions.
  • Office holders in a democracy must work to resist the creation and maintenance of barriers of class and race, such as low-income housing that is almost invariably sited in low-income neighborhoods, and differential spending on education that is almost invariably substantially higher in high-income neighborhoods, when it should be higher in low-income areas.
  • Affirmative action laws help the socially disadvantaged, but they must be well targeted and time limited in an acceptable manner to the middle classes or a backlash will result.

As our world population transitions from largely rural to primarily urban, rural values of self-reliance, low taxation, and fear of government intervention will be supplanted with urban values that seek the common good through government action while accepting higher levels of taxation, but only if urban policies are implemented that actually succeed.

Our individual freedoms and rights must be better protected, enhanced, and enlarged where feasible, so as to better provide what has come to be known as the: ‚ÄúRight to the City.‚ÄĚ10 While affordable housing, better education and enhanced voting rights offer much potential to increase individuals‚Äô freedoms and need to be supported and broadened, we also need to:

  • Enshrine everywhere the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, privacy, trial by jury, conscience, and movement.
  • Stop discriminatory policing.
  • Appropriately regulate bulk data collection to better maintain the freedom of privacy.
  • Provide freedom of access to the world wide web to all.
  • Discontinue jailing those who have not harmed others, as to do so often converts them into criminals, thereby destroying their‚Äôs and too often their family‚Äôs lives.
  • Ensure social justice for all.

As urban problems have considerable global variations, some regions will need to consider vastly differing approaches to some of their problems, for example, those with:

  • Aging populations should encourage increased retirement age, savings rates and employee ownership rates.
  • High immigration rates, while cities cannot control this, they must work to enhance social cohesion between these new members of their societies and longstanding members.
  • Declining populations must find the political courage to disengage from the death spiral of dropping employment, tax receipts, and thus delayed infrastructure maintenance and improvements before this becomes a crisis.  
  • High poverty will need to create sufficient funding mechanisms to provide the infrastructure, health support and education to help the poor help themselves.

When national, state and/or provincial governments fail to act appropriately, then urban areas must act on their own. For example, every urban area in the US should sign on to implement the Paris Climate Accord in their jurisdictions, and support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Quality of Life

Once career paths are taken into account, the three primary reasons people wish to live in urban areas are the increased opportunity for close relationships, the culture they generate and their high quality health care.  These provide a substantial framework for an enhanced quality of life. Certainly cities provide enhanced options for the differing work-life balances that a wide diversity of people need, and when combined with an expanded and diverse public and collaborative commons, they offer a large segment of society a superior alternative to a culture based on corporate fed media and material consumption. While we do need enough income for familial well-being11, after that our spirit needs something more than what money can provide. We know a preoccupation with material wealth and the acquisition of consumer goods leads to lower well-being. Conversely, those attributes of quality-of-life, which include such items as personal freedom, a healthy body and spirit, close family and friends, quality education, and a satisfying work, community, and cultural life are conceivably attainable for our entire global citizenry through appropriate urban strategies, and all are achievable without risking environmental collapse. To do this we must:

  • Provide a collaborative commons of shared resources with sufficient amenities free or at low cost.
  • Maintain local control over the collaborative commons to maintain high quality at a reasonable cost.
  • Improve and more evenly distribute quality health care. New discoveries in medicine, diet, and lifestyle continue to provide improvements to our health care options, and with new technologies can and should be distributed more evenly across the globe. Provide a free basic medical care program for the disadvantaged as part of the public commons, encourage healthy habits beginning in elementary school, regulate foods known to lead to poor health outcomes.
  • Encourage a sharing economy to allow use of various goods and services at low cost to area citizens.
  • Incentivize family formation and maintenance.
  • Enhance work/life balance by encouraging reduced work weeks and increased time-off packages, starting with city employees.
  • Enhance opportunities for the economy to supply engaging careers by incentivizing colleges, research centers, etc. across a wide band of creative and new technology professions.
  • Increase primary school time spent in art, music, theatre, second languages, etc., and bring artists into our schools more frequently.
  • Encourage culture factories12 to enhance urban vitality, history, and memory.
  • Corporate vs. society‚Äôs interest in culture and education differ, so corporate interests should be fit within the larger umbrella of society‚Äôs needs, rather than supplant them.
  • Disengage from mass media. Therefore, public advertising (as opposed to signage) should be strictly limited to entertainment venues such as Times Square in New York City.
  • Encourage increased lifestyle diversity (e.g. eliminate regulatory barriers to alternative paths of life such as monasteries, intentional communities, communes, etc.).

Authentic regional distinctions and their associated cultural identities, which provide residents with an important element of their self-concept and contribute to a sense of belonging to a distinct and identifiable community, should be encouraged and promoted.

A low-cost, high-quality education must be available to all. In the developing world where colleges cannot be physically located nearby, web-based free education needs to be offered to all who wish it, both for the benefit of individuals and the sake of society. In addition, while we must educate future generations for the jobs that will be available for them, we must also educate them to be citizens in the highest and best sense of that word: literate, compassionate to others, and understanding of their relationship to the world around them.

Urban Planning and Design.

Urban planning and design must seek to make our cities more vital, empower the above policies, and both upgrade and expand our urban infrastructure.

Urban vitality should be stimulated via urban downtowns and nodes with:

  • A diversity of uses (e.g. retail, entertainment, office, residential) in close proximity to each other.
  • Sufficient density to keep sidewalks lively throughout the day and evening.
  • An urban streetscape made interesting and attractive with landscaping, greens, parks, and a collective commons of art and culture.
  • Mass transit and bike-shares interconnecting downtown, nodes, and the denser corridors of our urban fabric.
  • Zoning support for a significant amount of building floor area for non-profit organizations, NGO‚Äôs, and other community organizations at low rents via zoning incentives to developers for their construction and on-going taxation.
  • Inclusion of low income residents via mass transit linkages and code modifications to encourage reduction to their spatial separation from economic, cultural and educational  centers of the city.

Each urban region will need to make its own decisions on how to handle its projected growth without creating more sprawl. Options range from creating entirely new cities (such as Brasilia) to revitalizing and expanding existing downtowns. Between these two extremes there are many alternatives. Existing suburban and urban arteries and nodes can be transformed into new urban centers of varying stripes through increased density along corridors of mass transit (i.e. Transit Oriented Development). Existing highways can be transformed into mass transit corridors, either with light rail transit, dedicated bus lanes, or, in the near future, dedicated autonomous vehicular lanes. Urban areas should promote autonomous, self-driving mini-busses over single passenger vehicles in order to reduce the total number of vehicles on our streets.  New towns, edge cities, and suburban retail and office centers can be urbanized and tied together with such systems to enhance diversity and density within the urban region without increasing the overall urban footprint. To compliment this work, general plans in rural areas that surround our urban cores should preserve existing open space through a combination of enhanced subdivision requirements and open space easements.

By enhancing our community life and promoting the design of regionally sensitive architecture and planning, we can encourage a sense of place in our communities. Enhancing the public commons will often further increase our sense of connection and bonding to place. This sense of community and belongingness cannot happen in a sea of sameness.

Areas experiencing low income and poverty (slums, favelas, barrios, ghettos, etc.) must be fully integrated into the urban fabric, including full access to mass transit, sanitation, health care, public commons, education, public administration centers, public safety and all the other accouterments of urban life. Only once this commitment is in place, can cities can successfully realize successful urban revitalization programs.

We need to embrace our cultural histories and collective memories. The myths, philosophies, religions, buildings, institutions, and urban fabric of the past add to our understanding of our society and ourselves, adding to our potential for societal and cultural progress. Therefore, our older urban fabric needs the support of planners to maintain its vibrancy and vitality for future generations.

While the cost of construction will always be higher in denser urban areas, the land component of new building costs can be held in check by first zoning sufficient floor areas for anticipated growth and then appraising and taxing these allowable but unbuilt floor areas as if the area was in fact built out. This will make land speculation more expensive, reducing land costs, and encouraging more affordable building projects.

Conclusion:

When we consider the numerous geologic ages that our Earth has experienced over time, we observe that some were sustained over millions of years, while others were transient. Hopefully the knowledge that we, as a global community, can consciously manage our emergent Anthropocene Age will provide us with the incentive to make the changes necessary for a sustainable human civilization on Earth. Fortunately, we have a good outline of what we need to do to create sustainable urban societies.  Our emergent post-materialist society with a collaborative sharing economy can free us from the addiction of needing more wealth and consumer goods, so we can become free to create our own destinies, collectively and individually.

Notes:

  1. Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  New York: Penguin Books, 2011.
  2. Tainter, Joseph.  The Collapse of Complex Societies.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  3. Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James.  Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.  New York: Random House, 2012.
  4. The ‚ÄúPublic Commons‚ÄĚ herein refers to the publically owned elements of our economies: libraries, the public school system, public squares and urban parks, athletic fields, swimming pools, transportation infrastructure, social security, etc.
  5. ‚ÄúPost-Materialist‚ÄĚ refers to a social system and economy characterized by the value and pursuit of quality of life, self-expression, and the sharing of goods and services instead of material gain and the ownership of goods. While present in some measure today, its growth sufficient to characterize our society and economy has yet to be seen.
  6. The ‚ÄúCollaborative Commons‚ÄĚ herein refers to those elements necessary for the developing sharing economy to successfully innovate (the world wide web, the internet of things, open online education, health care for all, distributed manufacturing through 3D printing, ridesharing, bike sharing, etc.).  Some of these elements are necessary due to the need for security in a shorter term job environment than enjoyed in previous economies.
  7. See: Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. New York: Penguin Books, 2017.
  8. See: McDonald, Duff.  The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers: 2017.
  9. Rifkin, Jeremy. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaboratove Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.
  10. The ‚ÄúRight to the City‚ÄĚ refers to Henri Lefebvre‚Äôs concept, first introduced in his 1968 book Le Droit a la ville, as the right of all citizens of a city to be able to access its resources, and in so doing, to transform the city and themselves.
  11. Veenhoven, Ruut.  Happiness As An Aim In Public Policy: The greatest happiness principle.  ‚ÄėPositive Psychology in Practice’. Chapter 39, Editors: Alex Linley and Stephen Joseph. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2004.
  12. Santagata, Walter. The Culture Factory: Creativity and the Production of Culture. New York: Springer. 2010.
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