Mitigating Climate Change At The Municipal Scale: American Urban Planning At A Crossroads

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Mitigating Climate Change At The Municipal Scale: American Urban Planning At A Crossroads

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Title: Mitigating Climate Change At The Municipal Scale: American Urban Planning At A Crossroads
Author: Hurst, Kent L.
Abstract: The failure of international negotiations toward a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol to limit global greenhouse gas emissions has highlighted not only the problematic associated with a global agreement on such a scientifically and politically complex issue, but also the importance of sub-national action in lieu of such an agreement. This is especially true in the United States where any national climate protection framework seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. In the absence of any such policy leadership from Washington, it is increasingly falling to states, regional organizations, and municipalities to craft emissions reduction strategies that will contribute meaningfully to global climate protection. In support of these efforts, a municipal climate protection movement has emerged, spearheaded largely by nonprofit advocacy groups, attempting to motivate and coordinate action in communities and regions across the country. However, even these efforts have proven to be sporadic, halting, and economically contingent.The Dallas/Fort Worth region is representative of many metropolitan areas across the country, especially those in the nation's South and West, in which planners have a vital role to play in promoting and securing a climate protection agenda. As one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the country, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is an excellent crucible in which to study prospects for meaningful local and regional action toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Characterized by sprawling, low-density development, thoroughly dependent on the automobile for transportation, and facing a future of increasingly tenuous fresh water supplies as its climate becomes even drier and hotter, the region's population is expected to double over the next 20 years. It comprises a large number of politically independent, fractious, and economically conservative municipalities, suffers from weak regional policy coordination, and is hostage to ingrained development practices that continue to thwart cooperation toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and compromise local and regional sustainability in the face of impacts deriving from global climate change. If that weren't enough, it stands in one of the most politically conservative areas of one of the most politically conservative states in the country. However, major political and institutional forces militate against local planners making meaningful progress toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions in their communities. These forces can be understood through the analytical lens of ecological modernization, a dominant discourse in U.S. environmental affairs that emphasizes the possibilities for win-win resolutions of the struggle between economic growth and environmental preservation through the application of technological innovation in a market economy. Both the premises and criticisms of ecological modernization discourse can be used to analyze the promises and challenges facing local and regional planning initiatives in North Texas to address the climate protection agenda.Dominance of the ecological modernization discourse at local and regional scales is examined in a variety of artifacts, including institutional and municipal planning documents and proclamations; regional planning initiatives; national survey data; and transcripts of interviews with area politicians, administrators, and planners. In addition, results from recently completed national survey of public sector planners are introduced to explore professional and community attitudes and initiatives toward climate protection. This analysis of the challenges facing its urban planners suggests a number of transformative moves that the American urban planning institution must take to motivate real progress toward meaningful climate change mitigation.
Date: 2011-10-11

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