Vision Power, Part 2

We are on the edge of a carbon revolution. Everything is going to change. This will matter to you…There is no high-carbon future.
Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Great Britain

When we give voice to our visions, we identify the destinations we want to move towards. And by describing the steps we can take, we prepare ourselves for action.
- Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook

In many ways, the future is an intensely personal thing. Every person, family, neighborhood, community and region is unique. A one-size-fits all plan for progress would be profoundly unsatisfying. It would impoverish us culturally by stifling invention and ignoring the richness of our diversity.

But what if the many communities engaged in envisioning America’s future, and the many organizations helping them, rallied around a common set of criteria for the society we must build for the 21st century? Not a common blueprint, mind you, but common goals that must be met society-wide if we are to successfully survive the economic, climate and energy crises?

Individuals and communities would invent their own ways to achieve the goals, but common goals would help us achieve necessary national and global objectives. They would guide local investments, including the new infusions of stimulus money going to states and communities for work on energy and climate. In the bargain, each participating community would become a laboratory and demonstration project for all the others.

What would that common set of goals look like? One list is being considered by the U.S. Green Building Council in its new 
LEED for Neighborhoods rating system. Neighborhoods win points by fulfilling as many as possible of these criteria:

  1. Proximity to water and water infrastructure
  2. Protecting imperiled species
  3. Conserving water and wetlands
  4. Conserving farmland
  5. Avoiding development in floodplains
  6. Redeveloping brownfields
  7. Reducing dependence on automobiles
  8. Creating bicycle networks
  9. Designing so that housing is near jobs and schools
  10. Avoiding steep slopes
  11. Restoring wildlife habitat
  12. Compact development
  13. Diversity in uses, housing types and housing affordability
  14. Walkable streets
  15. Reducing footprints for parking
  16. Providing good access to public spaces
  17. Ensuring accessibility for people of all abilities
  18. Local food production
  19. Involving the community in neighborhood development
  20. Preventing pollution, waste and site disturbance during construction
  21. Achieving high levels of energy efficiency, water and materials efficiency in buildings
  22. Reusing historic buildings
  23. Reducing in urban heat islands
  24. Achieving good wastewater management and comprehensive waste management

Smart Growth America proposes 10 principles for community development:

If I were chief advisor to all the architects of our future, my list would be similar in many ways, and tougher in others. It would include these goals:

  1. Beauty, a goal too often neglected as we talk about new technologies;
  2. Levels of resource efficiency so high that waste becomes an obsolete concept;
  3. Designs, zoning, and building codes that minimize the use of nonrenewable and carbon-rich energy resources;
  4. Use of distributed renewable energy systems wherever possible – for example, building integrated and community-scale solar, wind and geothermal systems;
  5. A community-wide goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions, with regular performance measurement and reporting;
  6. Equal and abundant opportunities, manifesting not only as diverse employment, education, cultural and housing opportunities, but also as diverse mobility options that allow all residents – including those who are too young, too old or physically unable to drive -- easy access to vital services and opportunities;
  7. Local business climates that attract and nurture the goods, services and industries essential to a green economy;
  8. Development patterns that maintain each building’s access to sunlight;
  9. An emphasis on environmental restoration as well as conservation – for example, natural corridors to accommodate wildlife forced northward by climate change and creation of “urban forests”;
  10. Features that enable communities to cope with the effects of climate change that already are likely. An example would be community shelters for those who need them during natural disasters and heat waves;
  11. Changes in behavior as well as technology – for example, community agriculture and food production;
  12. Ample social gathering places;
  13. Additional measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled, including incentives for location-efficient development, progressive parking policies and facilities for e-government, remote learning and telecommuting;
  14. The use of natural systems for infrastructure – for example, replanting watersheds for flood control, using swales to guide storm drainage, and constructed wetlands for water treatment;
  15. Features that maintain the connection between human beings and nature;
  16. Ample recreational and cultural opportunities for all ages;

Some will argue that specific goals such as these would stifle local initiative and creativity. I don’t think so. These are goals important to national and global well-being, in effect a responsibility of citizenship, and they leave enormous room for innovation and localization. But if you believe this list is too detailed and prescriptive, what would you subtract?

Others will judge these lists to be woefully inadequate to achieve desirable communities and quality of life in a time of energy insecurity and climate change. If you’re in that category, what would you add?

Some will argue that any list is bogus and that there is no climate crisis or energy crisis ahead. But as I’ve argued before, solutions to climate change are beneficial whether or not you believe in global warming. You need only believe that wasting money, childhood asthma, mercury poisoning, traffic jams, skyrocketing gasoline prices and seeing your energy dollars go to terrorist organizations are bad things.

Whether the list gets longer or shorter, it would be a good thing to “imagineer” around a common set of basic goals that are sufficiently bold to meet the challenges of this time. With your help, perhaps we can construct a list that meets the test.


William S. Becker is the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Plan (PCAP), a project of the University of Colorado, Wirth Chair, charged with producing a 100 day action plan on climate change for the next President of the United States, and the author of THE 100 DAY ACTION PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET, available in eBook format from St. Martins Griffin.

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The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet
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Toward a New Energy Economy: Part 1 Action in 100 Days
Toward a New Energy Economy: Part 2 Tough Questions, Tough Answers
How to Plant a Christmas Tree
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Small Businesses: Too Big To Fail
Economic Stimulus, Part 1: 16% Green?
Unleashing the Geeks
Climate Bill: Principle Draws Interest
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Invasion of the Present Tense
Whistleblower's Revenge
The Really, Really Bad Debt
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Vision Power, Part 1
The Age of Tradeoffs