I just spent a couple of days at a journalists’ forum at Harvard whose topic was climate change and cities. The basic premise being that — as our Mayor Nickels and his climate-fighting compatriots well know — cities contribute a hell of a lot of carbon to the world, but are also in the best position to slow our handbasket voyage.
Over the two days (which could easily have been two weeks), we heard from planners and architects working in places like New York, New Orleans, D.C., Phoenix, London, Latin America, and Seattle, as well as from smart-growth advocates and from journalists struggling with the challenges of covering climate.
It was inspiring, tiring, and motivating all at once. Here, without consulting my notes, are a few of the un-journalistic impressions I took away from it (more legitimate journalistic thoughts to be processed over the course of time):
- Journalists are white and nerdy.
- Rock star Andy Revkin moderates every comment on his Dot Earth blog himself — 13,000 of them in the five months since it started.
- The Netherlands, which has long contended that it knows how to live with the threat of flooding, is starting to freak out about climate impacts. And looking for disaster-preparedness advice from … the U.S.
- NYC congestion pricing is not dead. It’s just resting.
- “Environment” is still very much a siloed beat at daily newspapers, typically with one reporter struggling to cover every aspect of climate and sustainability issues — and teaming up with reporters on business, real estate, or even food beats is uncommon.
- The official in charge of recovery in New Orleans rides with an armed driver, in case of encounters with angry property owners whose condemned land he may need to seize.
- Male faculty at Harvard really do wear black turtlenecks with tweed blazers.
- Forget CAFE — the acronym of the decade is VMT, or vehicle miles traveled. Your car’s mileage could improve till the cows come home, but if you (and every other American) keep driving more, we won’t come out ahead.
- PowerPoint must die.
- The London 2012 plan, which mixes Olympic frenzy with neighborhood revitalization, might actually work. Also, a general note to conference organizers: if you are planning a very long day of presentations, have your final speaker be a charming, tousled-hair Brit. Dreamy.
And then there was the proclamation I stole for the title of this post — sidewalks are as sexy as hybrids, said Steve Winkelman of the Center for Clean Air Policy. In other words, gadgets may not save us, but smarter planning and placemaking could.
That’s it for now. I need a nap, and then it’s back to work figuring out how we can all right the world.