(From left to right, Panelists Paul Miller, Dr. dt ogilvie, Marty Johnson, and Robert Antonicello)
Last week, I attended the Jumpstart the New Green Economy conference at Fairleigh Dickinson. Although this conference was in New Jersey, many of the discussions at the conference were applicable to situations through the country.
One of the most profound seminars that I attended dealt with the sustainable challenges of urban communities. The panelists were Dr. dt ogilvie, Founding Director, the Center for the Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development as well as an Associate Professor of Business Strategies at Rutgers University, Bob Antonicello, Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, Marty Johnson, CEO of ISLES, a nonprofit corporation, and Paul Miller, Director of Sustainability Programs for the Morristown Partnership. (A short podcast is listed at the end of the article summarizing their thoughts.)
As a short background for those readers who are not familiar with New Jersey, each of the above groups interact daily with urban environments in different ways. One of the missions of the Center for the Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development is to “build a world-class research-driven, teaching and practitioner-oriented urban entrepreneurship and economic development program that will transform the economy of the City of Newark, New Jersey, and other urban centers.” The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency’s responsibilities include “the direct reinvestment of billions of dollars in Jersey City and tens of thousands of jobs. The Agency is committed to enhancing the quality of life for all residents of Jersey City by guiding responsible development and reinvestment in all neighborhoods and communities in Jersey City.” Jersey City is a riverfront urban community near New York City.
On the other hand, ISLES is a nonprofit organization fostering urban community self-reliance, through various programs. Lastly, the Sustainability Programs of the Morristown Partnership helps create a more sustainable town, in which sustainability has been driven by the local businesses. Although much smaller than its urban city counterparts, it faces the same urban challenges as larger urban centers face.
The main focus of the discussion was the challenges of making urban environments sustainable. The discussion that ensued dealt with the difficulties surrounding urban flight, establishing small and medium size businesses who would employ people in those cities, and educating our young.
Cities Need to Work
Cities are critical for our survival. According to Johnson, flight from the cities has increased to the suburbs since people are in search of lower taxes and better schools. This now includes people who have historically lived in cities which are now leaving in search of the American dream. This mass exit is causing suburban sprawl, in which almost 60 major urban cities in the country are moving in the wrong direction. Both Miller and Antonicello stated that immigration has been a driving force to keep their respective cities viable.
Miller indicated turning to the schools to educate children and inspiring businesses to take on leadership roles can help to make a more sustainable world.
When questioned on how larger cities are more efficient than small suburban cities with regards to the greater services needed, Antonicello replied that if you build a platinum LEED building in the middle of the suburbs, it would never be as sustainable as as building built to code in an urban setting. In an urban setting, you can build a taller building without common suburban zoning issues, require less parking, and more people could walk or take public transportation to work.
How can Urban Cities Become More Sustainable?
Some of the panelists’ responses were directed on how to make our Planet more sustainable, which in turn would make our Cities more sustainable. Ogilvie felt that federal standards and incentives should be mandated, which would include the elimination of the incandescent light bulb, more incentives to creates green businesses, standards for products being sold, and a commitment from the top to make businesses more sustainable. Smalll and medium businesses need to be established in cities. Employers tend to hire people who live in the cities, which makes the cities more viable.
On the other hand, Johnson felt that in order for businesses to become more sustainable, they must be given a fair plan as to what this will cost as well as one set of standards to meet. In addition, Johnson emphasized that in order for us to be truly sustainable we must deal with the race issue, which causes segregation. Look at such business leaders or initiatives such as PSE&G’s Ralph Izzo, Trenton Green, or Rutgers for innovative thinking. Miller added Sustainable NJ.
Antonicello explained from his perspective that it is important to grow a city so that it can afford its services and pensions to its employees in a sustainable manner. By growing a city around transportation, people are more likely to come back to live in the cities.
Miller attacks the urban problem of sustainability through empowering neighborhood to have a voice. Moreover, he felt that a community should look at their own design to see how their city can become more sustainable. To that end, Morristown Partnership had a Sustainable Design Assessment Team from the American Institute of Architects provide recommendations on how to make the design of Morristown more sustainable.
But where do you begin to make your own city sustainable in some manner? Both Johnson and Antonicello espoused the idea of having a champion and the power of 1. Organizing people to create change. Ogilvie added creating collaborative models with different groups with different expertise to create change based on the theory do what you do best.
One of the attendees pointed out the need to create salvage centers for materials to stay within the city when buildings are renovated. The panel agreed there was a need for such centers.
Problems in New Jersey
Although the discussion was about sustainable urban cities, the issue of high taxes in New Jersey surfaced through one of the questions of an attendee. She questioned why aren’t small towns being forced to join with each other. Perhaps this situation is similar to your own state.
Antonicello stated in New Jersey, there are 566 municipalities. The panelists agreed that these municipalities have a a kingdom mentality with alot of political invested power at stake and this needs to change. In addition, healthy cities should annex regional services from nearby larger urban center such as New York City instead of duplicating services.
At the end of the discussion, I had a chance to podcast with the panelists to summarize their thoughts. The podcast is 7 minutes long and quite fascinating. Click here: Sustainable Urban Communities Podcast
What are you thoughts on how to create sustainable urban cities?
Head shots of the panelists, courtesy of Professor Kent Fairfield.
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