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Truth be told, anyone with their eyes open is overwhelmed by the wealth of interesting, insightful, and high quality material out there -- in soft (blogosphere) and hard (books, etc) copy.  This drives us, all too often, into stovepiping our focus, gaining ever more knowledge about an ever narrower focus area.

Our challenges -- as individuals, communities, nation -- are, however, multifaceted, systems-of-systems issues that demand a more holisticlook, with a willingness to explore linkages and to gain some insight as to (un)intended consequences.

From Lagos to Los Angeles; Malmo to Mumbai; Acra to Washington, DC; State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future examines the "fantastic array of challenges and possibilities" for sustainable urbanism across the globe for the coming century.  And, it sets the basis for insight as to paths forward, and windows on the complexity of interactions between issues and options.

Too many reinforce this stovepiping, this delving into ever greater detail, specialization over synthesis.

Some institutions and organizations strive to provide the basis for taking the step from specialization to synthesis, to provide a window on complex interactions and opportunities for confronting (and surmounting) the challenges we face.

Worldwatch Institute, in my experience, is one such institution. Their annual State of the World series tackles major issue areas, from multipe (and quite high-quality) perspectives to inform about challenges, options for dealing with them, and insights from real experience ("lessons identified") about alternative paths.  And, this year's effort is most definitely a valued addition to this series.

Before delving into the book, let's return to Worldwatch Institute for a moment.  From its about Worldwatch ...

The Worldwatch Institute offers a unique blend of interdisciplinary research, global focus, and accessible writing that has made it a leading source of information on the interactions among key environmental, social, and economic trends.

In other words, that interdisciplinary that is so critical to steering a positive course forward through the sea of challenges we face.

Returning to State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, the book has nine chapters (short chapter summary via links), each written by experts in the field:

  1. An Urbanizing World

  2. Providing Clean Water and Sanitation

  3. Farming the Cities

  4. Greening Urban Transportation

  5. Energizing Cities

  6. Reducing Natural Disaster Risk in Cities

  7. Charting a New Course for Urban Public Health

  8. Strengthening Local Economies

  9. Fighting Poverty and Injustice in Cities

And sprinkled through the book are "CityScape" mini-case studies of the realities of problems and solution paths from cities around the globe including Timbuktu, Lagos, Jakarta, and Melbourne.

Energy and Cities

Well, not surprisingly, this is the section I will focus on ...

When it comes to energy, cities are critical -- with the majority of the world's population urbanized and that percentage growing, literally, every day.  Cities represented huge embodied energy (infrastructure) sunk investment, required energy to operate, and the cities/residents can have hugely varying energy footprints dependent on how their goods are provided. Energizing Cities speaks to how "cities have an unprecedented opportunity to change the way they supply and use energy."

As with the other chapters, there is tremendously interesting material within the discussion.

For example, when it comes to a systems-of-systems challenge/impact, let's consider air conditioning for a moment.  For China's cities, "air conditioning accounts for 40 percent of the public's summer energy demand and is the primary cause of power shortages ... in Tokyo, waste heat emissions from air conditioning are responsible for 1 degree Celcius of warming during the summer, exacerbating the heat-island effect ..." [pp 94-95] The section then goes on to talk about alternatives to forced-air air conditioning and paths for reducing the heat island impact so as to reduce air conditioning requirements.

Or, well, how about the potential to turn pet waste into power.  There is the case of San Francisco, where "almost 4 percent of all the garbage picked up [was]  from animal waste destined for the city's landfill".  Dog poop power, anyone? [99]  Trash to energy is a hot concept, not just for pet poop.  Consider, again, system of system implications.  "New York City produces 12,000 tons of garbage per day. The waste must be shipped ... and disposal costs the city more than $1 billion annually."  [98] That hints at the sort of system benefits of figuring out more productive uses for the trash other than trucking to Ohio and Virginia landfills.

Some CityScaping ... Green Power ...

Rizhao City's [108-109] central districts have 99 percent of households using solar hot water with many uses of solar electricity. There are 60,000 solar panel heated greenhouses.  As opposed to the $4000-$8000 for a solar hot water system in the US (perhaps 10 times the cost of installing a gas/electric water heater), "the cost of solar water heater was brought down to the same level as an electric one: about $190 ... Solar heating, hot water, and electric panels are all heavily favored by local code, tax policy, and subsidies.  "The city mandates all new building incorporate solar panels", works to promote public awareness, and led by example (wtih government buildings and city leaders' homes among the first to go solar).  In addition, and perhaps most importantly, through investment in the industry itself to drive down costs.  In any event, a truly holistic approach that has made Rizhao a "Solar-Powered City".  Should we be surprised that "Rizhao has consistently been listed in the top 10 cities for air quality in China"?

Malmo, Sweden, [110-111] is "Building a Green Future" the Turning Torso the towering symbol of this move from industrial shipyard town to a 'sustainable' future. The area is getting 100 percent of its energy "from local renewable sources: wind, sun, water, and gas from garbage and sewage."  As with Rizhao, the approach is holistic -- with educatiocating citizens a critical element.  As well, "Malmo seeks to learn from setbacks" as "the first homes that were built did not achieve the targets set for energy efficiency."  Learning and improving is critical.

Los Angeles is working on the "End of Sprawl".  There was, to be honest, much that I learned and even much that surprised. LA's CityScape [86-87] provides a good example. America's poster child for sprawl has found that "sprawl has hit the wall" and infill is growing. Now, infill and increasing density is generally good news on the energy front, but while "some of this infill in improving the quality of life ... in certain areas the results are a looming disaster", driving residents out through "skyrocketing" real-estate prices.  Again, lessons ...

The lessons the citiy of nearly 4 million holds for metropolitan futures may stem the tide of exporting the tired U.S. suburban model to the rest of the world and may simultaneously cultivate a new, more compact Los Angeles.

As a side note, this CityScape provided an interesting perspective on housing policy and federal support for home ownership.

Federal housing policy had several political uses:
*it was an employment program for the vast constructio industry;
*it provided housing to the middle class;

  • it served conservative national interest (based on the belief that no homeowner with so much work to do would have enough spare time to be a revolutionary).

Never conceived before of "Honey Do" lists as a critical path to inhibit revolutionary action but, in the end, it does make sense.

As with "cityscapes", the many sidebars add great value.  For example, a few paragraphs [92] highlight the energy intensiveness of construction and its wastefulness.

The construction industry accoutns for more than 1/3rd of global CO2 emissions and produces nearly 40 percent of all human-generated waste.

And, there are options forward, like reusing waste, as did a VP of one contractor with the 4,300 square foot Big Dig House.  That that is a recycled product most of us could live with.

Obstacles to renewable energy

There are real obstacles that inhibit making the right choice. For example, re renewable energy in urban areas, here are a few constraints.[104-105]

  • Limited resources -- there isn't enough to do everything.
  • Subsidies to conventional fuels:  

As of "2002 ... the $300 billion of energy subsidies spet every year on nuclear power and fossil fuels is four times as much as has been spent promoting renewable energies in the last two decades."

  • Market pressures that ignore environmental and social costs (the free ride given to pollutors)
  • Electric utility priorities to increase generation inhibiting investment in efficiency.
  • Common skepticism about renewable power and energy efficiency, denegrating its effectiveness.  

the typical new US home still remains highly energy-inefficient ... This gap points to the need for larger awareness of the long-term gains, both ecological an deocnomic, that can be achieved through more ambitious mandates for sustainable practices.  In effect, a paradigm shift is needed ..."
Absolutely true ... a paradigm shift to move us (US) on the path to Energize America toward a prosperous and sustainable energy future.  

Contrary to many people's perceptions, many sustainablity goals can be pursued through policies that do not increase tax-payer costs, as in Chicago, where green buildings receive expedited permitting.

Oh, yes, Chicago, which has much to say about its green.  Note, as per below, we're striving to create a Green Chicago Energize America tour at the tail end of Yearly Kos ...

In addition to education and public awareness campaigns, political pressure must be brought to bear against powerful forces that favor the status quo.

Now, that speaks directly to Kossacks and calls on us all to call to demand strong action on renewable energy and energy efficiency in the energy bill.


This collection is holistic, with innovative and quality looks at a myriad of issues for sustainable urbanism.  The horrific is mixed with the hopeful in this open-eyed look at quite serious issues and opportunities to transcend them -- whether in the "Developed" or "Developing" worlds.

As a sign of the value of State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, some of its pages are among the most marked-up and commented on of 1000s of books on my shelves. There was much that I knew, yet much new within its pages. And, well, there are easily a hundred references that I hope to track down and explore further amid all my spare time.  

Anyone interested in urbanism ... in global warming ... in considering moving theory to practice ... in developing a path toward a sustainable future should carve out the time to explore Our Urban Future.

Energy Smart

Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?


  • Consider joining the new, improved Daily Kos Environmentalists community / listserve.
  • Are you coming to Yearly Kos?  There will be an EA2020 panel Saturday morning along with a session on using the blogsphere for policy development. And, an Energize America tour of Green Chicago Sunday afternoon (we hope)
  • And ... of course, ENERGIZE AMERICA

Originally posted to A Siegel on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:16 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips / Mojo: 25 June 2007 (21+ / 0-)

    One of the values of Daily Kos, for me, is the exposure to a broadening perspective -- reading beyond what I might, otherwise, have chosen to read.  For me, Daily Kos fosters synthesis.

    This work, taking the challenges of urbanization, examines multiple challenges enabling a more holistic view of paths forward and their interactions.

    Urban planners ... this should be on your bookshelf.

    Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

    by A Siegel on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:15:05 PM PDT

  •  sssooo much to read... (5+ / 0-)

    Just got Natural Capitalism and The Weather Makers, and I still haven't finished The Assault on Reason or The Great Deluge....

    Great stuff, though, AS.

    I choked on your post. It nearly killed me. Hitler killed people. Your post is just like Hitler. - Pope Bandar bin Turtle

    by Buffalo Girl on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:18:37 PM PDT

    •  just finished (7+ / 0-)

      When The Well Runs Dry, 21st century water woes and highly recomend it.
      Loved Flannery's paleolithic to present history of the US..forget the name
      Now reading The End Of Oil, includes a lot of interesting history of auto comapanies and oil companies I didnt know.

      •  Both great ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eugene, dotcommodity

        Believe that you mean When the River Runs Dry, sitting next to me and intended as a basis for a discussion sometime in the near future.  This book has been part of the wake-up call to me that water needs to treated on the same scale of challenge as Peak Oil (e.g., the trilogy of Global Warming, Peak Oil/Energy, and Water ... and a huge number of interconnecting issues with all three of these).

        End of Oil was a very good read.  Cover made it into the EA2020 YK2006 presentation.

        Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

        by A Siegel on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 07:19:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Water Monopoly Empires (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eugene, A Siegel, dotcommodity

          Water is going to be a make or break resource, between population growth, sprawl, pollution, and climate change. There are alternatives to oil, but you can't do without water.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 07:19:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Both of these are excellent ... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Winnie, Buffalo Girl, JanL, xaxnar

      Will likely return to do one of these on Natural Capitalism (fantastic Lovins) and Flannery's Weather Makers is fantastic, although I think he downplays the role of government in the book.

      Hopefully will have the energy to do more of these ... and encourage others to weigh in about which works matter to them, and why ...

      Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

      by A Siegel on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:41:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Also recommended reading (6+ / 0-)

    The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler. About what can happen if oil prices got so high that it could change the way people behave. Written well before $3.00/gal plus gas prices. Who knew?

  •  Sounds like a fascinating book (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Winnie, JanL, xaxnar, A Siegel, scoff0165

    As it seems like the first chapter notes, we live in a steadily urbanizing world. But outside the US much of this growth is in the form of sprawling slums. Various US cities, particularly here in the West, are working on reining in sprawl and promoting infill development. Portland is still the best example but Seattle has been making strides as well.

    Ending sprawl and instead turning to density is a key to energy reform as it provides more opportunities for green transportation - from foot and pedal power to clean tech like trains and electric trolleys. Getting folks out of their cars needs to be a central focus of urban planning for the foreseeable future.

    I also think that it's worth looking at cities in a broad sense - as a metropolis and a linked hinterland instead of just as a city center. Sustainable energy usage by cities is tied to local food production - using rivers and green trains to get food from a farm to a city market, instead of massively-polluting ships that use petroleum to carry food across an ocean.

    Ultimately our future will be metropolitan - most of us will live in dense cities, tied to nearby farms. We need to pursue political policies that promote both.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:45:31 PM PDT

  •  Here's a link (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Winnie, A Siegel

    The Death of Recycling

    Right now it looks like more of a concept than anything else, but in time it could develop into something.

    Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

    by corwin on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:47:20 PM PDT

  •  Hmmm....several things I'd like to see. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Winnie, A Siegel, dotcommodity

    Can we convince them to give away free copies at Yearly Kos?  Last year I got a whole passel of great books.  And it was a good idea for the publishers because we talk about ' length.

    Trying not to put hand on credit card until next billing cycle....

  •  progressive local governments seem to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    be the driving force in our slow, slow transition to sustainability.

  •  Urban Planning (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, A Siegel

       I've had a long-term fascination with urban planning, because I' ve seen what happens when it goes wrong. We have a tendency in America to react to problems by waiting until we have to go into crisis mode. It's an inherent flaw in democracy that system response times can be so slow to respond to feedback - and when they do kick in, the same problem means the response may continue long after it is appropriate.
        Crisis mode is inherently expensive and inefficient, because at that point you don't have the luxury of time to ponder your best options or implement incremental solutions. You also tend to overlook other problems that haven't yet reached crisis levels.
       I have an interest in historic preservation, and that is a valuable component in an urban planning tool kit because it forces you to take a long-term perspective. A hundred years ago, one of the big problems in cities was what to do with all the horse poop. Cars replaced horses and no more road apples - but a whole new set of problems.
              While you may have had to watch where you stepped, horse-powered cities worked on a scale that was a lot more foot-friendly. And, not everyone kept a horse. You could live without, or hire one as needed. Too many cities don't work if you don't have a car. There might be important lessons for moving to a post-car city from the past.
            Experience is one of the most effective - and expensive - learning tools. Ignoring history is deliberately wasting a valuable resource. So is ignoring lessons learned elsewhere in the world. In terms in conceptualizing solutions, distance in time can be equivalent to distance in space. Learning from experience can be done on the cheap by looking at what other people are doing Right Now on the other side of the planet as well as Back Then here at home.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 07:40:03 PM PDT

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