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Premier article en anglais : what is the smart growth movement?

Published by Alexis Prokopiev | Filed under In English, Ecologie, Economie

Encore une fois Ecopolit innove et publie le premier article en anglais sur la “croissance intelligente” proposé par notre auteur Jonathan Morice. Tous les articles en anglais seront disponibles dans notre nouvelle rubrique “In English”.

In order to introduce the smart growth movement, we need to answer the big five “wh” questions…

When? I think it all began in the US with Henry David Thoreau when he escaped urban life and retreated to his handmade hut in Walden, 1845. He invented, or at least defined, the concept of civil disobedience to protest against tax hikes that were implemented to finance the war against Mexico in 1848.The paradox is that this man who wrote “…we find very little virtue in this action of masses” has inspired whole movements.

Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and all the later prophets of non-violent mass protest accepted his concept of civil disobedience. The hippie movement did this in the late 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, in the eighties and nineties, most of these people turned into yuppies, while the rest became marginalized members of environmental groups. This might be partly explained by the ability of the Market to recycle any good idea. The anti-consumerist philosophy of Thoreau in his hut is now undermined by Universal Studios/DreamWorks’ Sheck in his swamp, or by Walt Disney’s bear in “the bare necessities of life”.

Where? The smart growth movement relates to many groups in America, some interrelated, some on their own, but it has no clear boundaries, except the ones it wishes to impose against unfettered sprawl and consumerism. Sometimes it’s “Think globally, act locally,” as with advocates of local currencies such as the Berkshares. But the strategy might be reversed, as some act globally, as a movement, while thinking locally about your own life and where you are. Do not be a citizen of the world, be a citizen hic et nunc. The philosophy of smart growth really fits the United States, with its sprawling suburbs and single-use-zoning: structural impositions which have a detrimental effect on energy use and quality of life. However, smart growth has its sister cities in Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Belgium, Germany and even in China. Wherever grass roots movements, journalists, and even politicians work for life on a human scale, smart growth ideas emerge.

Who? There are at least nine different components of what can be called a movement only from an analytical point of view, since it lacks the cohesiveness of, say, the Civil Rights movement. I’ve divided these components into two categories: the critics of modernism and the builders of post-modernism.

Critics of modernism

Critical Mass. From San Francisco to China, when it was very difficult to cross a street because of an incessant flow of traffic, a certain number of people would have to be crossing together to stop the traffic. Critical Mass takes this Chinese phrase and applies it to bicycle and pedestrian protests against automobile determinism. In most cases, these are spontaneous happenings, resulting in the blocking of traffic. Is it a revolution? No it is a vélorution, “vélo” being bicycle in French. Vélorution in Paris is one of numerous groups across the world that have patterned themselves after Critical Mass in San Francisco and other great cities of the USA.

Anti-consumerism.,This category is represented by politicians like Ralph Nader, street-theatre protesters like the Reverend Billy, and associations that attack billboard/neon pollution. They not only talk the talk. They walk the walk. Nader leads a voluntarily simple life. Reverend Billy preaches in shopping centers. And people on the fringes within this category actually repaint or destroy billboards, in acts of civil disobedience.

Voluntary simplicity. People from middle class backgrounds engage in downward mobility. They believe that by living more simply, they will improve their quality of life, by working less and enjoying more, at a slower pace. They may organize car-free days, and are often given official support from municipalities such as Paris and Bogotá. Hundreds of cities participate. Meanwhile, working class people from inner city America or outer-city Paris still harbor dreams of upward mobility.

Sprawl busters. This and similar groups were organized to oppose big box stores and defend smaller businesses in town. Typically, big box stores such as Walmart will lead to the death of downtowns, in part through cheap labor abroad and at home. Visual strip-mall degradation of suburbs accompanies the loss of downtown identity. Vermont is among the most successful states to challenge big box supremacy.

The builders of post-modernism

Bioregionalism. This focus strives to return to locally produced food and energy, based on the regional watershed. But how do we define a region? It is certainly not the 22 administrative circumscriptions we have in France. A good example of an organization linked to local food, environmentally-friendly modes of production, and marketing according to fair trade principles is the AMAP (Associations for Maintaining Peasant Agriculture). Regions that have established their own local currency to favor local products and services would fit somewhere within the bioregionalist perspective.

New urbanism and ruralism. A new breed of architects led by Andrés Duany criticize single-use zoning and sprawl and then build new communities on a human scale. On another level, there is the new ruralism, the ecovillage movement. Between 50 and 150 people get together to create sustainable communities with their own social networks. Small is good, but there are attempts to expand to ecomunicipalities. Privacy is respected but public space and shared facilities make the living situation more convivial than modern towns.

Progressive municipalities. Across the world one finds local governments that establish radical changes in the structure and habits of urban living in search of conviviality and sustainable use of energy. These are often centered around new ideas in the sphere of public transportation along with non-polluting forms of private conveyance, such as bicycles and pedestrian friendly settings. One example is Curitiba, Brazil, whose transportation master plan was begun as early as 1968, and where the municipality establishes new forms of exchange, such as fresh vegetables for recyclable rubbish. Public transportation advocates often play a major role in these progressive municipalities.

Why? As explained by James Howard Kunstler in The Long Emergency, the environmental crisis has now become a crisis of civilization. We are running out of oil upon which everything has been based, and global warming will be the greatest concern of the 21st century. But you cannot simply criticize people for the way they are living, nor can you ask for sacrifice. You need to convince people that smart growth can improve their way of life. By reducing the size of homes and yards, minimizing the use of the private automobile or even getting rid of one’s car(s), and selecting goods based on their ecological footprint, one’s quality of life can improve. With this downscaling of consumption, people could very well be liberated from many hours of intense work and thus have more time to appreciate what they truly enjoy. In other words, changing a way of life not out of fear or sacrifice but for legitimate self-interests.

What? This is not necessarily about degrowth but it is certainly a more subtle vision of growth. I think that the choice of a name for this movement is not as smart as it intends to be. It is not precisely about the quantity of goods and services but an improvement in quality that is not directly connected with growth. GDP only measure that which has a price tag. Thus, the big irony of the smart growth movement is that it still refers to growth, when it should be inventing a new kind of development. As Pope John Paul II once said, “growth is not development because development concerns every person and all people.”

More : http://www.altiplanopublications.com/smartgrowth4.htm 

juillet 4th, 2007

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2 Responses to “Premier article en anglais : what is the smart growth movement?”

  1. anil Says:

    Raivo Pommer

    Fürstenbank LGT

    Als der Treuhänder Herbert Batliner im Januar seinen 80. Geburtstag nachfeierte, gab sich ein illustrer Kreis von Gratulanten aus halb Europa ein Stelldichein in Liechtenstein. Erzbischöfe und andere hohe Vertreter der Geistlichkeit waren dabei, Politiker aus Österreich, Top-Manager von internationalen Großbanken wie der Schweizer UBS, und ein Ex-Bundeskanzler. Helmut Kohl reiste persönlich an, um seinem alten Freund Batliner die Aufwartung zu machen.

    Die beiden Herren kennen sich lange und gut; Batliner war eine der zentralen Figuren im deutschen Parteispendenskandal. Er soll mitgeholfen haben, Geld am deutschen Fiskus vorbei in Liechtenstein zu waschen, mit dem die bürgerlichen Parteien hierzulande die SPD von der Macht fernhalten wollten. Unter Batliners Geburtstagsgästen war auch Prinz Nikolaus, Bruder des Liechtensteiner Landesherrn Hans-Adam. Schließlich ist Treuhänder Batliner wer in seiner Heimat. Nun hilft seine Tochter Angelika dem Fürstenhaus gewissermaßen sogar aus der Patsche.

  2. nil Says:

    Raivo Pommer


    Die Kapitalabflüsse gestalteten sich in der Branche in Europa und den Vereinigten Staaten allerdings sehr unterschiedlich: Während amerikanische Hedge-Fonds in großem Umfang juristische Sperren nutzten, die eine sofortige Rückzahlung von Anlagegeld an die Kunden beschränkten oder hinauszögerten (Gates), ist dies bei europäischen Hedge-Fonds weniger üblich. Auch gibt es in Europa mehr Dachfonds, in die Privatinvestoren investieren. Diese hatten die erste Kündigungswelle bei Hedge-Fonds im Herbst 2008 ausgelöst. Die Kapitalabflüsse aus Hedge-Fonds waren daher in der zweiten Jahreshälfte vor allem in Europa relativ hoch. Die Mittel europäischer Hedge-Fonds schrumpften nach Einschätzung von Morgan Stanley um 25 bis 30 Prozent.

    In den Vereinigten Staaten beliefen sich die Mittelabflüsse zunächst „nur“ auf 15 bis 20 Prozent. Dies erklärt, warum der weltweite Verband der Hedge-Fonds, die Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA), kürzlich bekanntgab, dass das Anlagekapital der 1200 bei der AIMA registrierten Mitglieder jetzt zum Großteil von institutionellen Investoren gehalten werde und nicht mehr von vermögenden Einzelpersonen, wie dies früher der Fall gewesen war.

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