Monday, September 3, 2007

Urban Environmental policy

The reading on Urban Environmental Policy can be summed up in a few simple ways. First, it defines a “local state” as the local government. This would entail town and city governments and perhaps even state governments but not national ones. It places an emphasis on the connection between these local governments and the people they regulate. This connection, however, has been increasingly similar to national governments and the line between local and national has been blurred. This creates a need to strengthen the bond between the local communities and the local governments. In order to do so, there must be a serious consideration of spatial differentiation and social diversion as the basis for the local state. Also, unlike a national government, the local state is anything but uniform and centralized. This means that each local government is unique and must be treated as such placing a further emphasis on the interaction between the local state and the local community. It also means that each local state needs to be self motivated and not rely on other communities for direction.

This need for independent local states is a topic discussed in much of the reading. It uses Toronto and Los Angeles as two examples of how this local state comes into play for controlling liberties. In Toronto, for example, the local state was left up primarily to the individual communities. This created varying disconnected systems there that were later taken over such as the transportation system. The issue was that the various communities within Toronto created their own plan, but only through overall governance could they be worked together. The local state also took on the role of community redevelopment with their waterfront project. With this project, there was a distinct connection between the governing body and the local community and the project was successful because the two groups found ways to work together.

Los Angeles took a different approach to urban planning. The initial freedom of Los Angeles was in the form of mobility. This promoted the use of cars and denounced the use of public transportation, forming the urban traffic jam we know today. This frivolous automobile created serious problems. As the greater Los Angeles area is nearly the size of Ohio, getting to and from the city is a big issue, and due to the lack of public transportation, there is a significant amount of pollution created from these cars. Restructuring the entire transportation system would be a great idea, but would also be a massive undertaking so the city planners took a different approach. As combating automobile emissions is unfeasible, the planners began to regulate industry and residential pollution. The local state, in this case, controls which days factories are allowed to operate, and also controls which days residences are allowed to use barbeques. These two approaches were used to combat the situation that could have been prevented had the communities worked together to form a more mass-mobile system.

The final concept was on the “urban regime.” This is defined as when government and private individuals work together to form governing decisions. A town meeting where everyday citizens spoke up would be an example of this. Regimes are important in the design of cities. They played a key role in Toronto’s development and play a huge part in the way large cities function. By including the communities in the decision making process, a larger portion of the governed bodies have taken a part in the decision making process, thus making it more effective.

Green Urbanism & Nature in the City

Nature in the City presents a technical view of political structure and activity as it relates to environmental phenomena, while Green Urbanism delves into examples of how cities and countries have organized politically to bring about environmental policy changes. Both texts highlight the importance of local, individualistic action as the driving force of environmental policy change as it relates not only to regions, but also how it trickles up to affect global interpretation and action on the environmental front.

If I were to apply the readings to an urban problem for which I am concerned, I would focus on the Dutch national ecological network (Green Urbanism, 202). Their national map begs the question of how much land humans need to inhabit, and how much land should be dedicated to species that cannot survive commingling with people (bears, wolves, etc.). Despite questioning the extent to which the Dutch are preserving natural areas, the idea of a national program that mandates a minimum amount of conserved land, rather that leaving the amount and placement of preserved land solely in the hands of local government, creates a more meaningful and useful (ecologically) array of natural areas, and shifts the burden of balancing preservation with increased tax dollars resulting from development out of the hands of those that would directly benefit from the latter. By doing so, the whole population benefits more than if the decisions continued to be made by local politicians vying for majority vote. The United States could implement a similar policy by expanding its national park system to place a majority of land under permanent conservation. It is very true that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till its gone.” In the immediate political environment, the value of such action would be dismissed as unimportant because of the purported vast amount of land that is not urban, but in 50 to 100 years, the forethought of a past generation would likely be recognized as progressive.

An interesting perspective I noted in Nature in the City was the dichotomous interpretation of the current environmental dilemma. One perspective accepts the “hegemony of the capitalistic economy” and attempts to work within that framework to generate solutions to environmental degradation (38). The alternate perspective espoused by the authors is a fundamental restructuring of the interactions between humans and the environment. In Green Urbanism many examples provided highlight the ways in which current environmental action do not sufficiently challenge the capitalistic economic notion of environmentalism. The focus is on improving the self, with the byproduct being improving the environment. While anthropomorphic thinking is not itself a deleterious activity, bringing nature back to the city, no matter how ingenious or how green, will not prevent ecosystem collapse. The Dutch, as mentioned previously, and others that have adopted a national preservation policy, come the closest to addressing the need for urban boundaries that successfully and distinctly differentiate between human inhabited and other animal inhabited space.

Caroline project information

Caroline team -- Below is is the basic information send via email

Caroline documents

1. Caroline Comprehensive Plan. Caroline's Comp Plan is organized into 2 parts: 1) Part I articulates the vision and goals for what Caroline citizens want their town to be like to be in 20 years. 2) Part II presents specific actions steps over the next five years to achieve these 20-year goals. This is the most important document because it is basis for all of our effort.

2. Grant Proposal. (sent via email "grant appl-2005") Erick Smith and I submitted this grant proposal to the NY State Quality Communities Program for professional planning support to implement our a major portion of our Comprehensive Plan: to design an innovative point-based development guidance system.

3. Request for Proposals. (sent via email "RFP for planning consultant") This RFP detailing our project and need for professional planning assistance was distributed throughout New York State. The Town eventually hired Laberge Group. Read this document for a sense of the specifics for what help the Town wishes in order to create a development guidance system.

Model documents

4. Hardin County Kentucky. Hardin County's Development Guidance System inspired Caroline to experiment with non-zoning-based tools to shepherd land-use in the Town. How much can it serve as a model for Caroline? Some parts might not work -- for example, the negotiated process was struck down by the courts -- but we don't know. It is unclear how something like this would work in a small town with limited resources. Don't hurt yourself reading this.

5. LEED. Salima, this is the basic LEED rating system for green buildings, as created by the US Green Building Council. It is widely used as the objective standard for green buildings in the US, and many municipalities and institutions are adopting policies to build buildings according to these standards. Notice how there are several categories (Sites, Water, Energy, Materials, Indoor quality, etc), and within each category there are both mandatory actions ("Prerequisites") and optional actions ("Credits"). You can pick and choose which Credits to shoot for based on your individual project, providing for flexibility and creativity. One is required to achieve all the prerequisites in each category and achieve a certain number of points from all the categories combined to attain "LEED certification" for a building project. The level of certification ("Certified", "Silver", "Gold", "Platinum") depends on the number of points (the more points, the higher the certification). Also note how the LEED system cites existing third-party/independent standards in its prerequisites and credits. This is important because for a system in Caroline to work, it must be based on objective criteria.

6. LEED-ND. Now, this is the cool part. The US Green Building Council created a LEED rating system for neighborhood development. As with the LEED building standards, there are several categories (Location, Design, Construction, and Process), and again within each category there are both mandatory prerequisites and optional credits. The prerequisites are basic land use things like "don't build on a flood plain" and "prevent pollution during construction", whereas the credits are more bold elements like "walkable streets" or "reuse of historic buildings". Isn't that awesome? The challenging part is how to apply this idea to Caroline within the legal and political environment we find ourselves. How might this work without zoning? Again, it is unclear how something like this can work in a small town with limited resources.

Exciting, huh? We need your help: What other models are out there? What models could work in Caroline? How would they work? It will be great to have your energy and curiosity to help us learn what is possible for us in Caroline.

Be the change you seek

Hello all,

It's Dominic here from the Town of Caroline. It was great meet many of you on Thursday and I am impressed with your passion and diversity of experiences. You are truly inspiring! Looking forward to working with the Caroline team and making a difference close to home.