Sunday, September 30, 2007

Week 9/30: Ecocities Ch. 8 and Observation

Summary of Ecocities Chapter 8 “Plunge on in!”

“You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created the problem.” ~ Albert Einstein

Register begins by outlining the concept of biomimicry as not just a good idea for sustainability, but an inherent necessity for survival of all things living. The foundation of everything we create is nature, and Register illustrates that we should carry it through as the structure.

Register’s strategy to build an ecocity, which he calls “Four Steps to an Ecology of the Economy,” includes:(1) the map: the planning of the land use and infrastructure.
(2) the list: an inventory of sustainable technologies – creation of green-collar jobs
(3) the incentives: shift from incentives to drive to incentives not to, and similarly switching to all other new green technologies
(4) the people: solidarity, participatory planning, first recruit the willing to give an example to the skeptics

Register talks in length about Joan Bokaer’s building of EcoVillage and vision of a sustainable city of Ithaca! He mentions that a successful element of Joan’s strategy was starting with the 4th step; by gathering the people Joan used community inspiration to fuel the sustainability fire in Ithaca. He describes the economic model of Ithaca’s Green Fund.

Register make specific suggestions for financially supporting ecocity building.

- no shopping at any place that has a gigantic parking not or is served by freeway off-ramps
- no shopping on-line for what you could buy in a walkable neighborhood
- no more new cars, and no old ones either as soon as possible
- no buying into gated, suburban communities
- yes to buying so your money circulates locally


Registers vision of creation of an Ecocity is far easier to imagine in terms of starting from scratch, as opposed to instilling the an ecocity-revitalization within an existing city. Ecovillages’ success as models of civic sustainability is based largely on self-selection of residents. There are so many elements of change that would have to occur on so many levels in a nearly simultaneous highly flexible manner to have a matching example of success within existing city limits. I am NOT saying it’s not possible, I am just wishing, much the same as Register is, that there were examples to show the skeptics who are perfectly happy to keep waiting “until we have all of the answers” to their criticisms (which, of course, as Register says, will never happen).

Observations of Ithaca through Green-colored glasses

I walked from my house on South Hill along State Street to highway 13 and back along Green Street. The “800-pound gorilla” car-based-culture-reality Register forces us to recognize and evaluate was painfully obvious as I walked around Ithaca comparing what I saw to what I could envision based on Joan’s and Rob’s presentations. I have no doubt that Bokaer’s estimation of one-thrid to two-thirds of most US cities surface space being devoted to the car is true in Ithaca’s. Everywhere I looked I saw another aspect of the city that supported the car and the vicious cyclical exponentially increasing investment in the auto industry. Our “unnegotiable life style” (to quote George W. Bush) of consumerism with the car on the pedestal.

Trying to role-play as a local Ithaca small-business merchant, looking at the city if it were to become mostly car-free, I felt very nervous about how the change might hinder my business’ growth. I took on the roles of the owners of the various businesses I walked past. For example, thinking of myself as an owner of a restaurant, and seeing the loading docks made me think of all the huge deliveries that come in transported in semi-trucks to support the amount of food I sell. If I were to switch to only buying from local vendors, they would still need a way to get hundreds of pounds of food to me every week. And I couldn’t help but notice that many of the local businesses would risk becoming obsolete if they were not able to bring in huge shipments from around the globe. It did not make me opposed to the idea of the change, it just made me realize that the change may have a beneficial effect on the city as a whole, but is likely to have a catastrophic effect on many individual’s way of making a living, at least initially.

During my walk I saw two elderly women pushing grocery carts up the hill towards Ithaca College collecting cans and bottles from people’s recycling bins. You know what they say about assuming things – but I went ahead and assumed that these women were poor, and tried to look at the proposed-sustainable-city-changes from their eyes. I was sure that a city that provided walkable proximity from home to commerce/places of employment and to other community services would have been beneficial to anyone struggling to get on their feet financially. I also felt that if everyone, from all levels of the Socio-economic spectrum, were forced to use public transportation, then there would be a status-quo for the quality of the transportation experience. However, I worry that with out much American-dream-mentality we put into our cars, that even sustainable transportation-companies would pop up offering “elite”/first-class transportation that would be faster and more comfortable and separate from that affordable to the poor. And on a 95 degree day in July when a single-mother with 3 kids is trying to get from work to school to pick up her kids to the grocery store and home, she might just feel desperate enough to pay for the faster, more comfortable service to get home and sacrifice something else in her expenditures, such as her dinner. But there I go looking at it without my systems-thinking-hat on. :) Of course, in a systems view of a sustainable city, she would have a job that would pay enough for her to not make either sacrifice. I hope so. I’m just so worried about likelihood of people in this country letting go of “the capitalist dream that we can all get rich,” which contaminates the promise of equity in this green picture.

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