Today's Emerald Cities Book Review Series blog post comes from Economic Development Division Chair and Principal of Development Strategies, Bob Lewis, AICP.
The City of St. Louis is just now embarking on a formal study to effectively determine how it can adapt to the themes raised by Joan Fitzgerald in her 2010 book, Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development. My company is delighted to be part of this rather innovative and experimental venture by St. Louis, and I’m thankful that I read Ms. Fitzgerald’s book before the City called me! You should read it too—just in case.
Our role in what has a working title of a St. Louis Climate Sustainability Plan is to identify metrics that economically justify going green. Yes, we all know that going green is the right thing to do. My urban planning degree is from the Earth Sciences, Geography, and Planning department of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. While the planning component was budgeted out a couple of decades ago, I was immersed in the importance of environmental sensitivity when planning for and undertaking urban redevelopment. This is a movement with immense momentum around the globe today. But it is a movement that still has to prove its economic value.
Thus the need for economic metrics. Mayor Slay of St. Louis is insisting on it. He is a green believer, but he also needs to sell the concept to skeptics, like the city’s residents and businesses, who are asked to pay for going green. The questions become, “Does this save money?” and “How?”
Ms. Fitzgerald’s book contains a quote from Douglas Foy that addresses our economic challenge—but also the opportunity. The quote is, “Cities are the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency.” My interpretation is that “thar’s gold in them thar cities.” All we have to do is find ways to mine it. What savings do we get from greener approaches to managing and operating our cities? Savings equals found money. What added economic development do we attract by going green, or at least greener? Jobs and businesses equate to found money and more tax base. Tax base adds to sustainability, and even growth, in the ability to support quality of life services in our old cities.
Thankfully, Joan Fitzgerald defines a slew of potential metrics that the Mayor can convincingly use as he manages the politics of a 200-year old city that has transformed from a commerce center to a manufacturing capital back to leadership in commerce, health care, and finance. My company’s job will be to translate Ms. Fitzgerald’s fine research into pragmatic measures directly applicable to St. Louis that demonstrate sounder economics in the urban setting. What a wonderful and fulfilling challenge for an economics guy with a background in earth sciences, geography, and planning.
Now, plan to join us to hear Joan Fitzgerald speak at our first annual Economic Development Division “open dinner” that we are co-hosting at the Boston APA National Conference with the Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Division on Sunday, April 10 at 7:00 pm at Legal Seafoods. Sign up when you register for the conference whether you are a division member or not. The networking will be fun and we’re going to learn a lot about adapting our old cities to emerald cities. See you there!