Almost everyday in the newspaper or the blogosphere some group attempts to make headlines forecasting what we could call “eco-doom” for cities. Whether the prediction is rising sea levels, fires, plagues of locusts (or killer bees) the result is misplaced attention.
Here’s an example via Planetizen: Sea Levels are Rising: It’s Time to Decide Which Cities are Worth Saving. The article goes on to insist that we should be addressing the possibility that rising sea levels will swamp the hospital, schools and other infrastructure of various cities.
Behind this alarmist headline, the article does not discuss a time frame. Some scientific models suggest such a scenario is at least 100 years away, if it happens. And given similar forecasting models based on oceans and atmospheric events cannot accurately predict the weather next week or often even the next day in most coastal cities, I’m inherently skeptical of anyone saying they can predict events 50 – 100 years in the future.
Instead of forecasting certain doom, or fretting about the green house gasses that others produce in far off places, what if we focused on making our own cities more livable now? Designing public policy to plan for a possible — but not at all a certain — event 50-100 years in the future seems a wasted energy when there is so much more we could be doing now.
Air pollution causes asthma and other respiratory disease, thereby reducing the quality of life in cities. When Atlanta had to restrict automotive use during the 1996 Olympics, hospitalizations for asthma and related ailments declined 41%.
So what if urban public policy was centered around improving air quality: Make possible more transit and bicycle use as well as walking instead of single-occupant automotive travel. Preserve and create more green space, that cleans the air and improves livability in cities.
Human beings were built for walking. When we don’t walk, or get regular moderate exercise, our bodies don’t work right (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, are all signs of this). Public policy to make walking a more natural part of the day could reduce pollution and health care costs and improve quality of life.
If policy went further and demanded office buildings and other workplaces like hospitals and schools had better air quality and more natural light, it would reduce energy consumption and make people happier, more productive at their jobs — which would boost the economy and reduce pollution in the cities, improving livability.
Instead of discussing hypothetical doom, why don’t we talk about how cities affect the health and well-being of residents now– and do something about it.