Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cities Are Good For The Environment: Soglin Gets It Right

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin explains how and why cities are good for the environment, and that means downtown development with transit connections.

This same battle is underway in Milwaukee, where bus service is failing, light rail or trolley service is blocked by an anti-urban alliance of suburban leaders and conservative talk radio hosts, and sprawl development and interstate highway expansion keeps moving people and resources farther from the downtown.

One of these days there will be a political agenda at the State Capitol that puts downtowns and cities at the top of a state political, environmental and employment agenda: which is another way of saying "Not Scott Walker."

[Disclosure: for the umpteenth time, I worked for both Madison Mayor Soglin (as administrative assistant, equivalent to Chief of Staff, and for former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, in several capacities, including Chief of Staff. I did not work for both Mayors at the same time, however.]


JACK said...
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rich said...

Up to a point.

Density is not enough: and Soglin's knee-jerk support for the bloodless, business-as-usual Edgewater Hotel redesign doesn't so much help cities & the environment, as it sets back both.

Shoreline sites such as the Edgewater on Lake Mendota or the UW-M's possible Lake Michigan siting of its water sciences facility are a huge opportunity to do world-class, cutting edge sustainable design.

Instead, nominally progressive and supposedly environmentally aware mayors, past and present, are setting us back decades, squandering the future, and settling for business-as-usual practices and second-rate outcomes.

Yes--real, functional cities are a requirement. But a 'green' that settles for dense and urban without ensuring a livable and highly vegetated city landscape is pointless, and self-defeating in a way that takes us right back to the kind of cities, circa 1940, that everybody ran away from.

Can New York City really term itself 'green'? By happenstance, yes, but not really by intention until very recently.

Walk down any street, and you see Chilean Sea Bass on the window menus of restaurant after restaurant. The self-advertisment as a 'green' city enables a level of self-satisfaction that precludes vast numbers of NYC residents from adopting green lifestyles. The bottled water problem is only visible -- consumption of tasty ortolans and the absentee ownership and exploitation of natural resources far removed from NYC is not only standard, it's admired. Why settle for an apartment in SoHo, when a second home in suburbia can double your ecological & carbon footprint.

NYC off-shores its waste & out-sources its environmental impact, whether its dumping garbage or strip-mining coal: Jeffrey Sachs, of all people, has been advocating for coal --- seems mountaintop removal and violations of the Clean Water Act in West Virginia are A-OK with that fine upstanding New Yorker, as long as he doesn't have to face the consequences of his profligate intellect.

Must be OK -- if you're a New Yorker.

Cities are efficient -- but you can walk the street in NYC and get a real load of the incredible waste occuring day-in & day-out.

Cities are efficient -- but they need a vast overhaul, and the antiquated thinking of Dave Ciezlewicz is being rapidly outpaced by visionary leaders around the country.

Cities are efficient, but that's no excuse for defaulting to business-as-usual.

That includes Madison's street reconstruction, tree policy, backwards shoreline zoning attitude, the privatization of public space at the Edgewater, and in particular the utter inability to move on greener architectural design.

Cities are great. Dense, compact, mixed-use urban environments are necessary --- but do not trump the obligation to build a more ecologically sound city that people actually want to live in.

If the new Edgewater's design precludes public access by an unmistakably unwelcoming design --- or if it has so few ecologically-sound features built into it --- it along with those projects coming after it will kill the 4 Lakes that laid Madison's golden eggs.

Live in the past and die soon; or catch up with the rest of the country in the quality of urban design & architectural quality, and thrive economically. An easy choice. But it really is just that simple.