Sunday, February 4, 2007

Climate Change Report Should Spur Local Action

Local actions can be the response to last week's findings by the international scientific community that global warming is “unequivocal," and that humanity is responsible for much of the increase in temperatures.

Here are a few ideas that can focus the local debate on solid and measurable outcomes:

* Cities and states can elevate better transit - - and that means urban and inter-city rail networks along with buses - - and diminish spending on new highways.

In the Milwaukee area, that means reining in the projected $6.5 billion freeway expansion and reconstruction plan, turning off AM talk radio's loudest, anti-rail squawkers who use the issue to gin up their conservative, suburban base, and getting serious about
modern transit in a region that is stuck in the transportation world of the 1950's.

* Regional planners have to include climate change in their agendas. In the Great Lakes region, and particularly over at the soporific Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), that means tackling two phenomena that appear contradictory but which each demand the heightened attention of planners: possible loss of Great Lakes watershed volume due to higher temperatures and also the probable increase in heavy rains due to warmer temperatures and evaporation.

Heavier rains lead to floods and sewage system overflows, and recent summers have produced those very so-called '100-year-floods' more than once a century.

I attended a US Environmental Protection Agency program in Chicago with Mayor John Norquist in the winter of 2003 where EPA presenters showed data indicating that what they called climate change-related "major rain events" would force municipalities to cope with costly overflows.

And SEWRPC has to factor these issues into its land-use, transportation and housing recommendations in a much more comprehensive and urgent fashion.

* Governments need to go 'green' wherever they can, from lighting to heating to transportation to building codes and public structure design and operation.

With green planning in mind, the City of Milwaukee now has a Sustainability Officer (full disclosure: I sat on the interview panel that recommended to Mayor Tom Barrett that he hire Ann Beier who now manages the city's office of sustainability).

People in positions like Beier's, however, need to be given greater authority within their bureaucracies to push water conservation, land-use, transportation and other related measures.

Communities in Waukesha County that are still annexing farmland like crazy for subdivisions, water parks and shopping malls - - with little regard for a broad conservation agenda - - are the most in need of a green overhaul in their city halls, and certainly in their planning departments.

The City of Waukesha has made some preliminary moves in this direction, installing low-flush toilets in its city hall and adopting ordinances that limit lawn sprinkling.

But it still has aggressive subdivision/annexation plans on its drawing boards, and its efforts to be allowed to import three times its typical daily water usage from Lake Michigan - - without a plan to return that water to the lake - - continues to undercut its desire to be seen as a conservation leader.

* Environmentalism needs to be better meshed with economic development so that the two are not in conflict. Again, the City of Milwaukee can lead in this field because it has excellent models within its borders.

The Menomonee Valley Partners (MVP) and the green development it is promoting in the rehabilitated river valley close to Milwaukee's downtown proves that smart land use and water conservation programs can attract new business.

The MVP also is showing that business can adapt and flourish in a green environment, even one - - especially one - - that the public may incorrectly believe is still an abandoned and unwanted brownfield.

The city's business community, and the M-7 regional effort it is leading, could easily boost the Valley's profile by adopting the MVP's success story as one of the region's signature achievements.

With Miller Park at the west end of the valley, and the Summerfest grounds on the east, and with the New Harley-Davidson Museum, the Potawatomi Casino, the Hank Aaron State Trail and manufacturers in between turning out everything from high-tech products to pizzas, the Valley is an obvious location for more new housing, recreational infill, more business development and...going back to the first point in this little essay...for a trolley or light rail line connecting to the rest of the city, and also to the suburbs.

(An aside: It was just a few years ago that some highway planners wanted to slap another big, development-killing freeway bridge across the valley above where Canal St. has been widened, just as the concrete-heads had earlier wanted to replace the aging, flat Sixth St. Viaduct guessed it...another flat and ugly interstate-highway-style span.

Both ideas were blocked by then Mayor John Norquist (disclosure: I held several positions in his administration); he successfully forced the state to replace the Sixth St. Viaduct with the more graceful, award-winning Sixth Street Bridge that helped open the east end of the valley to development with easier, ground-level access.)

In other words, local governments, planning bodies and private sector leaders can be creative when they want to, and what better moment than now to do that across-the board?

That means embracing the world scientific community's unequivocal findings about climate change - - that's the "thinking globally" part - - and then just as unequivocally taking action in the "acting locally" conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Why aren't the City leaders in Milwaukee looking for an environmentally friendly modern transit alernative within the City rather than this "KRM"? From what I can tell, the KRM really only benefits the "K" Kenosh, and "R" Racine. Any gains from the KRM in air quality would surely be cancelled out by in an increase urban sprawl.

XOut said...

Yes. By all means. Oh, wait, didn't the report say that there is nothing we can do to stop it?

James Rowen said...

To Xout;
The report said it we start now we can have an impact, but that it will take a long time.

Anonymous said...

Local governments should also adopt sustainable food policies, requiring or prefering locally produced, organic foods in contracting and sales in public facilities.

James Rowen said...

To Anonymous; Talk radio pretty much killed discussion of both light rail, and, later, the guided-rail Connector systems within the city. And let's face it: Milwaukee interests at the grassroots didn't make urban rail a cause celebre, either.

I think an operating KRM would help get the public conditioned to embrace other rail alternatives, and would also add a good option heading to and from Chicago.

In fact, the KRM will help solidify the message that Milwaukee's best economic partnerships are to the south - - Racine and Kenosha and Chicago - - where, unlike to the west in Waukesha, there are compatible urban issues and environments.

The other dormant rail alternatives will resurface when gas prices spike again and when more aggressive city-focused business and political leadership emerges in and around Milwaukee.

XOut said...

Dear Professor Rowen,

At best, the collective report said that we MAY be able to reduce some of the impact, but for the most part it is irreversable.

You stop driving your car and I will stop driving around in the summer with my A/C on and my windows rolled down.

Of course all of this presumes that the study rises to a level above scientific fraud.

My theory (considering anyone can offer theories as virtual fact these days) is that more scientists have matriculated from the public schools into universities that no longer concern themselves with academic accomplishment resulting in the elimination of genuine science as a practical matter.

By the way, I consulted with myself and I am 90% certain – that Global Warming is an entirely man-made theological phenomenon. Therefore, you can be certain of it.

I intend to address the United Nations General Council shortly.

Have a very, very warm day James.


XOut said...


I suppose you could force poor people in Milwaukee to eat mercury laden fish from Lake Michigan. Thanks to Mr. Rowen and his friends, MMSD (no, not your local school district) has pumped plenty of organic material into the lake, so the fish will definately qualify for your eutopian plan.

James Rowen said...

For Xout: I remember your angry and anonymous pouts on the Xoff blog. Still not confident enough to come out from behind your mask - - and still not funny enough to carry off anonymous blogging like the infamous Dennis York.


XOut said...


As I have always told you… take the white pages from any community, flip through the pages, pick a name, that’s who I am. Give me a call.

I don’t hide in anonymity any more than well-known people rely on their stature to get beyond reason or accountability for their comments.

You may or may not be an expert on a variety of things, but those of us that know your anti-suburbanite views are keenly aware that your global warming screed was only written to further your agenda of stopping suburban growth and driving people back to the city. Even if it means using the force of government to prevent another home from being built in the burbs, you would support it.

For you, Global Warming is little more than a convenient un-truth, and opportunistic social tinkerers such as yourself are more than happy to engage in the exploitation.