The federal stimulus money flowing to America’s municipalities right now presents them with a choice and a question. The choice: Will they use the money to become cities of the past or cities of the future? The question: What is a city of the future, anyway?
The choice should be simple. A city official’s first responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of the people in his or her community. Insofar as stimulus funds are available to repair failing bridges, dams, roads and vital infrastructure, that’s where they should be invested.
But as more funds are available – for example, the $100 billion earmarked in the stimulus package for energy grants to states and localities, or the $6.3 billion targeted for clean energy grants, or the $17 billion for transit or part of the $40 billion for roads, bridges and other infrastructure -- a high priority should be to begin putting each city on the road to the future.
That means building communities that are secure from energy supply disruptions and crippling energy prices; free from the air pollution that threatens the health of 186 million Americans today; laced with safe routes for people to walk and bicycle; able to provide a variety of mobility options so that everyone – including the young, old and disabled – has access to vital services. Cities of the future condemn no neighborhood to be the dumping ground for waste, pollution or traffic; conserve vital resources such as water; prepare to withstand the anticipated impacts of climate change, including heat waves and extreme weather; protect and restore natural places so that kids of all ages have contact with nature; foster social interaction; and avoid urban sprawl, to name a few criteria.
If the benefits of building for the future are not clear, the urban leaders should think of it this way: If they plan to invest in buildings, transit systems, streets or infrastructure and those improvements are meant to last more than a decade, they are not building the city for themselves. They’re building it for their children. The goal should be to create a community that remains competitive for generations to come as a wonderful place to live and do business. Continued...