Cities are resilient; they test the fate of time, enduring through a multitude of disasters. These can come in the form of natural disasters, disease epidemics, economic perils, or ecosystem destruction. While the countries and empires throughout the world been redrawn, great cities remain. These aspects of the city are true today, even in the United States.
Great cities must adapt, infrastructurally, economically and, many times, independently from the nation-state in which they are umbilically attached to. The 21st century adaptation will require a robust retrofitting of city transportation, buildings, and overall sustainability. Sustainability, broadly speaking, meaning the robustness of a cities design—rooftop gardens providing insulation, ascetics, and vegetables; renewable energy built into infrastructure (solar powered street lights); energy-efficient buildings; advanced public transit networks etc.
In her book, Emerald Cities, Joan Fitzgerald encounters many such cities sprinkled throughout the continental U.S. Despite a fledgling economy, and many years of disagreement in the Federal government regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency, a number of large U.S. cities are embarking on such sustainability programs. This may come as a surprise to many readers, and in fact was a surprise to Dr. Fitzgerald, because the U.S. is, by and large, considered years behind other continents when it comes to sustainability.
Without overtly imparting definitions of urban sustainability and economic resilience, Fitzgerald deftly crafts the former with the latter. This imbues the reader with a sense of the inherent connection between urban sustainability and economic advancement. The cities that can manifest these interdependent goals will inevitably become the most desirable and economically independent cities of the future. Fitzgerald begins with an introduction to sectoral and cluster approaches to economic development and industry. Clusters are industrial concentrations that attempt to combine as many products of a supply chain in a particular area, oftentimes located within the domicile of cities. Cluster industries can be found around the world, the most famous of which is Silicon Valley south of San Francisco. Industrial clusters are also blooming in the renewable energy field.
This leads to an informed discussion of transformational strategies, which bridges dilapidated industries with the new clean energy society. An interesting example cited here is the wind energy industry, which comprises of over 8,000 individual parts. In terms of solar technology, the city of Toledo witnessed a dramatic shift into the thin-film solar energy market. In the past, Toledo was a large glass manufacturing hub which, since falling into decadence, left the city with a surplus of skilled glass workers; since photovoltaic energy is largely composed of glass, the transformational strategy here was relatively straightforward.
Importantly, Emerald Cities draws upon the unique interconnection among job creation, social justice, and climate change. To bring attention and advocate for this cause is the Apollo Alliance which is a coalition of labor unions, environmental organizations, and business leaders with the tacit understanding that energy efficiency and clean technology can create 3.3 million jobs and increase GDP by $1.4 trillion. Coalitions and organizations such as this can link policy with job creation, and inform citizens of the benefits of both renewable energy and sustainability.
A strong policy decision to link jobs and clean energy sprung out of Ohio where the Regional Growth Partnership was created in order to drive innovation and commercialize start-up companies. It remains Ohio’s sole venture capital fund for renewable energy companies. Ohio also boasts a unique way of integrating renewable energy via a renewable energy credit system. This policy also mandates the public utilities companies to decouple profits from sales—a contentious issue which treats
sustainability as a universal good, which should benefit all citizens.
A point of major contention, and one that should be highlighted here, is the subsidies given to the oil and gas industries between $15 and $35 billion (the most recent estimate by the International Energy Agency, a conservative organization, was $409 billion in 2010). This does not include the passes they receive for not restoring land, which happens to be part of a current lawsuit against the industry in the state of Louisiana (article from the Huffington Post here). Meanwhile, China is spending $221 of $586 billion of its stimulus on renewable energy. One might ask why archaic energy technologies, which have been commercial operational for nearly a century, need such subsidies. Would it not be more wise to invest the $409 billion in fossil fuel subsidies into emerging renewable energy technologies?
Manufacturing jobs make up nearly 70% of the renewable energy job market. Therefore city, state, and national policies should adhere to policy which serves the dual purpose of both increasing the share of renewable energy while encouraging domestic participation in the industry. Yet this is impossible without formally subsidizing renewable energy manufacturing on U.S. soil. One successful policy tool that should be reinstated is the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) that came into effect under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. By rewarding domestic renewable energy manufacturing, each
dollar of tax credit renders two dollars invested back into the industry domestically.
While the author lays out an impressive network of sustainable cities in the U.S., the book concludes unceremoniously. Clearly there are great strides that the country must take before boasting of any successful sustainable city, or sustainable policy plan for that matter. However, before bold policy plans can be enacted, the general population must realize the facts: the U.S. government has, since its very creation, subsidized industries for the common good—make no mistake about it, sustainability, renewable energy, and energy-efficiency are most definitely for our common good, any way it is looked at. Dr. Fitzgerald concludes with a statement that stokes the heart of her overall thesis: “The reality is that the U.S. government […] has helped create industrial winners for more than two hundred years, beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures and extending through the government subsidy of the railroads and the development of land grant agricultural and mechanical universities during the Lincoln administration” (183). If we can all get on board and embrace a new technological
revolution, systematically based within a sustainable vision, Emerald Cities might be rewritten one day to reveal to the rest of the world how a sustainable country, rather than simply a city, operates.