Resilient Cities

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Book: Peter Newman and Timothy Beatley. Resilient Cities.

describes how intelligent planning and visionary leadership can be strong weapons for cities facing climate change and peak oil


In WorldChanging:

Worldchanging: Building resilient cities is not only the smarter choice; it's the only choice. What do you think our timeline is for accomplishing some of these things?

"Newman: It's a big task, but there's an enormous commitment. Everyone is now committed to 80 percent reduction by 2050. Copenhagen in 2009 will be the new global convention which will decide on a road map that will make us respond to climate change, and that will work its way through every government.

You've seen a massive change across this country, in the desire to change where government will be seen as part of the solution, versus part of the problem. Markets and governments working together can recreate our cities.

The money's going to be there, and the cities that respond to it quickly will do well, some cities will decline, they're not going to respond quickly enough. Some say you'll never get Americans out of cars, that is historically what has happened, but there have been such transitions in the past and already car use is in decline in American cities. The new green transition is upon us. Some cities are going to make it through and others aren't.

The big cities that were thought to be hopeless like Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and Houston, have turned a corner, especially Denver. Atlanta will be the hardest. The areas on the fringe of those urban areas will suffer as that kind of scattered development around the cities is very vulnerable as fuel costs increase.

Beatley: I think that American cities are really poised to take that next step and to dramatically commit to ecological and sustainability principles. It's been helpful to have those pioneers, and to have Mayor Daley in Chicago, and Governor Bloomberg's commitments in New York, and long-term pioneers like Portland and other city leaders. But I think now we're right on the cusp of making this whole agenda, from local food production to bicycle mobility, investments in transit, green building, carbon-neutral developments and neighborhoods, and biophilic urban design.

But we've got to keep showing that this is not necessarily a sacrificial agenda. It's about enhancing prosperity of a different kind, about enhancing quality of life and richness of life, and expanding and extending the assets that are the real assets: the strength of community, the friendships and bonds between people, the commitments to place, reconnecting to environment and place and each other. Those things are on the way, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Worldchanging: Do you have a vision for what will happen to the suburbs?

Newman: We are very strong about including the suburbs in the vision. I think any attempt to abandon them will fail. Suburbs will survive, but they'll have more options for local employment and services and more options to get into the city quickly and easily.

Most suburbs can have transit linked to them within a 10-year framework, and we'll have enough options then with a renewable energy-based transportation. The suburbs themselves don't need to change much, but they have other options for transportation once you bring in electric rail and more local destinations based around transit oriented developments (TODs). The other transformation is electric vehicles hooked up to smart grids. The car use will be carbon free, but they'll have a good transit link to the rest of the city.

Suburbs will remain, but I think many people will want to live in a transit oriented development or an urban place where they'll have an option to do away with their car altogether.

My city is a very good example of what can happen in the suburbs. There was a strong political movement to build transit out to the suburbs during the fuel crises. The Perth southern rail line now carries 55,000 people a day, where the buses had only 14,000. And it's beginning to shape development around it so instead of being a sprawling, shopping center-based area, the city will build downtown-type centers around the transit stations." (


"Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Western Australia, coined the term "car dependence," and has devoted his life's work to helping governments understand the urgent need for improved public transit and land use in the 21st century. Beatley, Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia, believes cities and nations should more freely share solutions for policy and development, to help us face the common challenges of sustainability and combating climate change."