Hurricane Harvey provides a sober reminder that resilience is about mitigation and adaptation

Most of us faraway bystanders are observing Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey with concern at the devastation as well as encouragement at the stories of compassion. With sympathy to the current human suffering from Harvey, we are wishing Houstonians continued strength, fortitude, and safe passage this week. No amount of comprehensive planning or zoning reform can prepare a city for the sort of flood Houston is currently experiencing. An expected 50” of rain in a few days makes this an event that no place in the world is likely to sustain without massive personal and economic impacts. Perhaps not even the Netherlands, who has led the world in stormwater management for hundreds of years, with protection, prevention, and preparedness.
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Green Cities: Breathe deeply and walk freely

As much as I love my winter city, when spring rolls around life brightens up. The onslaught of studies from Friday’s Earth Day imply that our feel-good response to the fresh lime green of spring does much more than pump endorphins. How we green our cities may be a life and death issue. People with greenery close to home have significantly lower mortality rates, according to new analysis of the extensive Nurses’ Health Study.

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Climate Change: a global commons problem

The report published week before last by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that climate change is a global commons problem. The solution is to decouple rising temperatures from economic and population growth. Hundreds of the most prominent scientists with divergent political views from around the world have run thousands of scenarios, and I’m going to take a moment here to extract some of the land use issues woven through the report.

This is practical advice for city planners about how to move in a cleaner direction and pull as many local decision-makers as possible along with you. So “wonk alert” to our less technically interested readers, who may prefer this Yale 360 piece from prominent enviro thinkers about paths forward. Or this older piece by Emily Badger in Atlantic Cities about how reformatting the single family home’s relationship to its neighbourhood will help.

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[Holiday Leftovers] Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

[Originally run Jan. 15, 2010] Hi, my name is Hazel, and I’m an addict.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been addicted to a string of takers. Time-draining, money-grubbing, fat-building, resource-depleting, toxic machines. For the last 18 months, I’ve been clean. Ever since our move to Canada. And this last weekend, I realized I may be cured.

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Resilience: It’s who ya know.

If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.

That alone begets a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, and embraced the types of places that reinforce those inclinations, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess emotional baggage.

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The End is Near, Part II: Leveraging imminent doom as ‘Grand Strategy’

This is maybe one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments. But I’m spinning it upside all the way.

In one previous post, I griped about planning’s synaptic delay dilemma. When it comes to the really big issues of our time, the time lapse between doing stupid stuff and suffering the consequences is too great to dissuade us from doing stupid stuff. (See, for instance, three-pack-a-day smoking, triple-decker cheese burgers and sprawl.)

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Resilience: It’s who ya know.

If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.

That alone begs a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess baggage.

Sprawl: form following function.

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So Much to Do: Sadly, so much time

Time is not on our side. And that earth-shattering insight works in two directions.

The most obvious is the situation most of us face each day, with ever-expanding to-do lists colliding with obstinate time frames. Same old days, with the same old number of hours in them.

But here’s the deal with a to-do list: What makes it useful is the degree to which it ranks tasks. And the way you decide what rises to the top of the list is to have a pretty good idea what will happen, in what sort of time frame, as a result of you choosing one thing over another. The problem is, your confidence about what will result from choices depends on how quickly the consequences of the choices unfold.

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Fat-tastic! Can Small Thinking Solve Our Super-Sized Problems?

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — more commonly known for crunching global budget and employment numbers  — the United States is on track to be 75% obese by 2020.

3 out of every 4. And if you check with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, they’ll tell you to expect 86% by 2030. Continue Reading

Sustainability’s Triple Bottom Line: Tool for Commit-a-Phobes?

As a recovering journalist, I’m working hard to suppress old impulses. But habits of a couple decades are hard to shake. Which is why I’m struggling with familiar twitches of cynicism when it comes to “sustainability.”

We’ve reached a point where just about everybody is laying claim to a sustainability strategy, whether we’re talking mining companies blowing up mountaintops or guys selling eight-mile-per-gallon SUVs. Let’s give them this: They have a point, provided sustainability goals are tied to the desire to keep on doing whatever you’re doing in perpetuity. Continue Reading