Sunday, April 27, 2008

US cities looking to Europe

A great editorial in the Houston Chronicle by Neal Peirce: Are Americans up to shedding their mental blindfolds to learn powerful climate-change strategies from Europe's metropolitan regions? Or put another way: Can we afford to wait any longer?

The issue was front and center earlier this month as the first-ever joint conference of major U.S. and European regional councils met in northern Virginia. The regional leaders adopted a Declaration of Cooperation focused on innovative strategies to promote a raft of climate-friendly development practices.

Areas in which Europe has outpaced the United States include energy efficiency, renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power, "green" buildings, more transit and less car use, and smarter land use practices. The Alexandria setting was fitting because the Northern Virginia Regional Commission — through a decade of exchanges with counterparts in Stuttgart, Germany — has been inspired to adopt a range of conserving strategies. Among them: pedestrian-friendly streets and traffic-calming measures, car-sharing, low-impact stormwater management, and steps to make the entire Washington capital region a national leader in green rooftop gardens that consume carbon dioxide.

But such success stories are rare. Too often, when our local government officials travel overseas to observe other practices, political opponents and/or our local newspapers pillory their trips as "junkets."…

….Bottom line: We lose out, lagging both environmentally and economically. In today's fiercely competitive and dangerously warming world, it seems high time to kick our superior attitudes of "American exceptionalism." That's the notion that since we led the world on every step from the Declaration of Independence to winning two world wars and putting men on the moon, we're inherently superior and don't need to learn from others.

….What could be reported by Barry Seymour, director of the Philadelphia region's Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, was a sharp rise in interest — among utilities, local officials, the public — in climate-change projects. Indeed, said Seymour, "climate change gives us a new way to package" an array of measures that his planners have long recommended but Philadelphia area leaders ignored. Among them: promoting walkable communities, creating more transit-oriented development, and saving open spaces and natural systems in the path of development….

I couldn't resist this picture of a red squirrel with pronounced winter ear tufts in the Hofgarten in Düsseldorf, shot by "Ray eye," Wikimedia Commons, under Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 2.0 Germany License.

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