Vincent Scully Prize Lecture
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2011 Vincent Scully Lecture
by William K. Reilly
National Building Museum
November 8, 2011
I compliment those who conceived, named and financed this Prize in recognition of Professor Scully. It is a generous, and so fitting, recognition of a uniquely inspiring and influential teacher.
Vincent Scully was among the important influences in my life. I signed up for his course my freshman year at Yale in order to comply with a distributional requirement. To be honest, it wasn't my top choice. Yet at the conclusion of his first lecture, I remember my reaction: I was riveted to my chair, and late for my next class. I hadn't known ideas could be so exciting. One memory I have is of a young student who rose to address the great man—and Scully made an imposing figure up on the platform with his long pole, which he used to bang hard on the wooden platform to change a slide or wake up a sleeping student. Scully had been lecturing on Mies Van der Rohe, speaking of Van der Rohe's handsome 999 Lake Shore Drive apartments. He was lavish in his praise of the buildings. The student rose to say something like, Sir, I live in one of those buildings and twice in the past two years we've had to vacate the apartment because of serious water damage draining through the walls. Scully answered with imperious certitude: “Functionality is irrelevant to great architecture!” I won’t say that I wholly agreed with Scully on that point—but I can now see that his course was an important starting point for my life-long engagement with place, place-making, and the centrality of good development to effective conservation.
That Vincent Scully is honored by this Prize named for him is altogether fitting. Generations of students were stimulated and enriched, and also entertained, by Scully. I can truly say generations because he is the only teacher who taught me and both of my daughters, Katherine and Megan. And Megan met her future husband, Chris Cayten, in Scully’s class. And my wife Libbie’s father was a faculty colleague of Scully’s. The impact and enthusiasm Scully conveyed came through in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air when the architecture critic of The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, recounted that he had sat through Scully’s introductory lecture course during each of his 4 years at Yale, only once for credit!
After Scully, I looked at buildings differently. And my sensitivity to context, landscape and symbolism all grew.
As I reflect on the previous winners of this prize—Jane Jacobs, Bob Stern, The Aga Khan, and the others—I am aware that I am punching above my weight class this evening.
Let me begin with a story that has a marvelous stew of bipartisan politics, productive citizen engagement with entities public and private, cost-effective investments, and beautiful buildings and landscapes. I refer to the Presidio in San Francisco. It stands alongside the restoration of San Francisco Bay as a triumph of institutional resourcefulness, citizen leadership, and practical conservation.
Consider how the story began. The Presidio was a Spanish fort guarding San Francisco Bay from 1776. It had high cliffs with vistas to the west and the Pacific Ocean, and its northern beaches reached into San Francisco Bay. It remained a military post for most of 200 years. When the Army finally decided to give it up, language shrewdly inserted into a statute some 20 years before by Congressman Phil Burton provided that if the large U.S. military landholdings bordering the coast and Bay were ever declared excess—that is, if the Army should see no further need for the Presidio—then it would pass to the jurisdiction of the Interior Department “for park purposes.”
When the Army prepared to depart in the early 1990s, the city and county of San Francisco and the state of California confronted difficult choices. The appeal of a landscape offering oceanfront open space where runways had been and parade grounds with spectacular perspectives on mountains and the Bay made the Presidio a prime candidate for a park. The presence of numerous old barracks and 19th-century military buildings further called out for preservation. But the presence of more than 800 buildings was a mixed blessing. Most required significant repairs. Many contained lead and asbestos. A golf course offered preferred tee times to military brass, and there were officers’ houses with grand views of the Pacific. The cost of maintaining the buildings and keeping the grounds, of policing and fire protection—these totaled tens of millions of dollars. Accordingly, both the state and the city declined to receive the Presidio or take responsibility for running it.
And so it fell to a group of citizens led by a committed business leader, Jim Harvey, to conceive a plan to create a trust, to lobby Congress to approve it, and to commit the park to become self-supporting by 2013—provided that the federal government appropriated an annual and decreasing amount to finance the transition.
A number of private citizens organized to consider ways to protect, finance and manage the park. We examined several models, including the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Agency, which Senator Moynihan had championed.
We went about our work very deliberately. We invited a key senator to tour the park and I recall talking to one of his supporters. “What can we do to win him over?” I asked. “Do you have anybody in your group or friends who ride Harleys? Have them find the Senator one and then ride alongside him on the tour.” And from the aide to another senator, “Have him bring his wife. He met her in San Francisco.”
We worked with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and prepared legislation to establish a Trust of seven appointees chosen by the President. We worked closely and cooperatively with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and key Congressional committee chairs to lobby for enactment. With bipartisan support Congress passed the law.
One trustee had to be a veteran. That turned out to be me. Congresswoman Pelosi and Don Fisher, chairman of The Gap, and Toby Rosenblatt, former chairman of the San Francisco City Planning Commission, and I went to Washington to lobby Congress. Ultimately, and with Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement, President Clinton included three Republicans among his seven appointees. Virtually all authority regarding the park’s maintenance and development, exclusive of the shoreline, was vested in the Presidio Trust.
The resulting investments transformed a military base into a premier park. The story of that transformation, through a new and unprecedented legal instrument and the decisions relating to design, development, demolition, rehabilitation, and landscape improvements, is one of the great modern-day successes of American land-use planning.
The conversion of a 1,500-acre military base, twice the size of New York’s Central Park, into an urban crown jewel presented serious challenges to traditional park management. The Park Service had no experience with managing, and no realistic prospect of financing, the conversion of hundreds of buildings. At the same time, Park Service officials feared the precedent of allowing anyone else to do so. The experience and the solution of turning over a park to a group of trustees directed to design a plan that would make the park financially self-supporting were without precedent.
Once the Presidio Trust had been created and began to improve and rent the buildings, Park Service officials and environmentalists asked me to make clear in testimony to Congress that the case for an entity of private citizens to run the Presidio was unique, because of the large number of buildings needing renovation. I agree with that. The success—and it has been a stunning success—should not be used to support privatizing other parks with more traditional characteristics.
Toby Rosenblatt later led the Trust’s board with great patience and skill, Fisher oversaw the real estate committee, and Mary Murphy, a leading San Francisco commercial real estate lawyer, led our negotiations with George Lucas. Amy Meyer, who had influenced Burton to look ahead and foresee the Presidio’s future as a park, was also named a Trustee.
The Presidio legislation committed the Congress to provide funding until in 2013 the Park would be fully self-supporting. It is on track to meet that goal. An early achievement was the agreement with George Lucas to house Digital Arts and Magic’s studio and offices on the site of two big obsolescent hospital buildings. Lucas’ structure, designed by Gensler, is clean and simple and fully consistent in form and scale with the architecture of the base’s buildings. And the landscaping of the Lucas complex’s campus by Lawrence Halprin is stunningly beautiful—a park within the park, green with stands of mature trees and flowing water.
Since the Trust’s creation in 1996, $1.2 billion has been invested in the park, four private dollars for every federal dollar. There are 460 historic buildings in the Presidio–one of the largest concentrations I know of anywhere in the United States—and they are now leased to organizations that will either invest in their rehabilitation or pay market rents for the use of an already-rehabilitated building. Tax credits for historic improvements have been useful. Among the notable investments: Lucas put over $300 million into his campus, the Disney family spent $50 million on three buildings including a new museum, the San Francisco Film Center invested $15 million, and Forest City Development put $100 million into rehabilitating an old hospital for apartments—a project that has won three preservation awards. Programs at the Presidio serve low-income school children and campers, and support and provide venues for civic events of all sorts. In sum, the Presidio is the most ambitious achievement of historic preservation, base conversion, and public-private financial partnership in the United States.
As the geographer Lisa Benton Short has written in her fine book about the transformation, “The concept of Presidio as national park is not a revolution in planning ideas or a radical redefinition of space but rather the century-long evolution of a vision.” By its fabulous location anchoring the Golden Gate, its contributions to the history of three countries through whose sovereignty it passed, the varied functions and services it provided, and to the personal pleasure it gave to generations, the Presidio came to be loved. And as Jacques Cousteau memorably said, “People protect what they love.”
So the story of the Presidio is one of adaptation and renewal. It is a story of public policy and private enterprise joining together to realize an extraordinary achievement. And it is a story of a beloved place that inspired uncommon human imagination and energy—and, we should not forget, bipartisan, public-private commitment to achieve something great for the common good.
The Power of Place-Based Thinking
Obviously, I found my involvement with the Presidio enormously engaging. Now I’d like to take a step back, to share with you the context I brought to that project—and then to suggest a bigger challenge—indeed the biggest challenge of all—that all of us who think and care about the built environment now face. As a lifelong conservationist, I recognize as never before the power that place-based thinking has featured in my career and interests. Along the way, I had other great teachers who helped enrich and sustain the lessons I absorbed in Vincent Scully’s lectures.
When I was 33 years old and newly installed as president of The Conservation Foundation, the great conservationist Sir Frank Fraser Darling guided me on a tour of selected landscapes in his native Scotland. He described how the Benedictines had altered and improved, reshaped and cultivated the land. In much the same way, René Dubos also inspired my appreciation of place. Dubos wrote about the monotonous flat grey land that once characterized the Ile de France, an area I came to know as a student in Paris. Try to imagine Paris and its environs as “a flat grey land.” Dubos pointed out that thoughtful people had reorganized it, planted it, drained it, placed cities and towns in it, civilized it, and made it the premier landscape model for generations of great painters. It has remained productive and accommodating of human settlements for centuries. Dubos also said there were two human enterprises that inspired great hope in him for the future. One was the Netherlands, and the other was New York State’s Taconic Parkway. Both create an experience of beauty, variety, and bucolic serenity in the midst of large, densely populated urban conurbations. His key insight? Dubos famously wrote that one can improve upon nature. I believe that deeply.
Another of the mentors I most admired was William Hollingsworth Whyte—Holly White—best known as author of The Organization Man. Later, he turned to the study of urban places and the ways in which people use them, and provided us with a stunning array of insights. Using time-lapse photography, he established a number of counterintuitive truths. Pedestrians choose the most heavily crowded and trafficked intersections to stop, chat, exchange reciprocal gestures, and cause people to detour around them as they engage in the long goodbye. Lovers in public parks typically choose highly visible and exposed locations to show their affection. Everyone who wishes to sit down in a public place will begin by moving the chair, if it is movable, even a matter of inches, to establish his or her own space. Light can be assured in the canyons among skyscrapers by attending to bounce light from windows and building surfaces.
Among Whyte’s insights was the value of density--of creating places in cities where other people are and want to be, where there are places to sit in chairs that can be moved, food available, people and an environment worth watching, and enough people to reassure women they are safe. New York’s Bryant Park is the place which most responds to Whyte’s prescriptions. Once a den of drug dealers avoided by prudent tourists, it is now a favorite park, with cafes, food vendors, chairs and a carousel, and crowds of people on sunny days. New York City’s zoning and building bonus system, and even its attention to bounce light, are heavily indebted to Holly Whyte.
Whyte also wrote The Last Landscape, which examined the processes by which open farm and forest land was being consumed by development. He was a believer in cities and in the serendipitous creativity that results from chance encounters that only occur in dense settlements. He lamented environmentalists’ pressures, when new developments were proposed, for lowering densities. He believed in streetscapes friendly to pedestrians, and so he made fun of banks, corporate headquarters, institutions, and other street-level activities that built fortresses walled off against people, the sidewalk and their surroundings. Essentially, Whyte aimed for design that promoted pleasure in places and worked to identify the activities and design qualities that people enjoy. His fundamental conviction was that urban settlements could create the conditions for creativity and delight.
Nor was this mere theory. Jim Rouse understood Holly Whyte perfectly when he redeveloped Quincy Market in Boston. I got to know Jim well as he served on the Rockefeller Task Force on Land Use and Urban Development, and later on the Board of The Conservation Foundation. Best known as a shopping center developer, he pioneered the festival marketplace, Quincy Market his first. He gave me a tour of the fruit, meat, vegetable, and flower market to which he had given over the entire ground floor of the historic building. His decision to do that was inexplicable to other big developers, some of whom openly mocked him as "not really oriented to the bottom line." As we made our way through the hordes of shoppers eyeing the low-margin foods, Rouse explained to me that what the critics didn’t get was that "the market is the magnet, it's what draws the crowds." And later the Rouse Company reported the highest per-square-foot revenues there of any urban commercial development in the country. Rouse understood that the surrounding high-rent-paying luxury stores drew their ambiance, and their attraction, from their proximity to an exciting place where people wanted to be.
Following my Army service, I began my career as a land-use lawyer. I was hired just 2 weeks before the first Earth Day by the new Council on Environmental Quality, established at the White House in 1970 during the Nixon Administration after passage of the National Environmental Policy Act. I was asked to draft a national land-use policy law. Our then-small staff of five or six was sent around the country to carry the White House flag and express our environmental commitment—and I drew West Virginia. In my talk there, I tried to convey the principles of good land use and building policy. I said that steep slopes and floodplains were to be avoided. When I had finished, an old timer spoke out from the rear of the hall. He said, “Young feller, how much of West Virginia have you seen?” Not much, I confessed. “Well, steep slopes and floodplains is about all we got.” At that moment, I had not yet been exposed to Whyte or Rouse—and I surely could have used their help in knowing how to craft a message appropriate to West Virginia.
The land-use statute I drafted for CEQ created a federal grants program for states to identify and protect “areas of critical environmental concern,” and to establish laws to assure that “development of regional benefit” was accommodated. In the surge of new suburban growth that characterized the late ´60s and early ´70s, the challenge was two-sided. It was to protect the countryside, wetlands, and historic buildings from alteration and destruction, but it also sought to ensure that with population and economic growth, and the reaction against that growth in many communities, we would and could accommodate new residential and commercial development while not excluding needed facilities such as housing for low-income households, wastewater treatment plants, and airports. The bill passed the U.S. Senate but failed by one vote in the House. The principal elements later were incorporated into the Coastal Zone Management Act.
I was very proud of my work, and pleased that President Nixon had embraced it and proposed it. I learned only three years ago, as my boss at the time, Russell Train, recounted the experience of meeting with President Nixon to discuss his environmental program, including my explanation of the land-use law. Nixon looked at Train and said, “Who is the son of a bitch who wrote this?” Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell was later quoted apropos of the President’s very progressive civil rights initiatives: “Watch what we do, not what we say.”
I put my experience at CEQ to good purpose as Executive Director of the Rockefeller Brothers Task Force on Land Use and Urban Growth, which produced the report, The Use of Land: A Citizens’ Policy Guide to Urban Growth. This report sold 50,000 copies and had a long shelf life as it laid out basic principles for accommodating growth in environmentally responsible ways and offered new tools with which to approach the challenge across the country. For me, with its opening gambit, “There’s a new mood in America,” the book captured the spirit of Earth Day, applying it to urban development.
In 1985 The Conservation Foundation affiliated with World Wildlife Fund US and I became President and CEO of both. My most important mentor and exemplar Russell Train became chairman of the common board of directors. No organization was more engaged with protection of place than WWF -- exquisite, unspoiled, wild, and beautiful places in the Americas, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. These were the emblematic and iconic environments: The Eastern Atlantic Rain Forest and the Amazon in Brazil; Corcovado in Costa Rica; the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Mexico; Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and the great parks of Africa; Royal Chitwan and Annapurna Conservation Area of Nepal. My encounters with these parks led me to believe that the era of advocacy for creating new parks and identifying their boundaries, of mapping them and considering them firmly established – was yielding to a new challenge: People. People in greater numbers whose livelihoods and cultures had to be accommodated around and often even inside the parks. Whether it was timber in a Central American park, clearing for cattle in Amazonia, or shooting elephants for ivory in Africa, the human and economic dimension was asserting itself. One response WWF pioneered was Debt for Nature. The large overhang of debt owed by developing countries in the 1980s was trading at deep discounts. Some could be had for 25 percent or less of face value. Rodney Wagner, a banker on the WWF board, and WWF Executive Vice President Tom Lovejoy conceived the idea of purchasing this discounted debt with hard currency, converting it to local currency on condition that in return for debt forgiveness the receiving country would apply the currency to mutually-agreed protection of the parks and also to jobs and economic development around the parks. I led two Debt for Nature projects, one in Ecuador and one in Costa Rica, which transferred funds for nature protection. Later I explained the concept to President-Elect Bush when he interviewed me for EPA, and he proposed and achieved a $500 million U.S. Government commitment to Debt for Nature investments as part of the Enterprise for the Americas program. What WWF had begun and demonstrated, the U.S. Administration copied and took to scale.
When I became EPA Administrator, I drew upon the experiences with Holly Whyte and Jim Rouse and Bob McNulty who founded Partners for Livable Communities, and the various programs, publications, and movies we had produced both at Partners, whose board I chaired in the 1980’s, and at The Conservation Foundation, where I was president. We researched and published reports on such topics as the Economics of Amenity, highlighting the importance of cultural institutions in attracting professionals and corporate headquarters and anchoring neighborhood revitalization, and the concept of aging in place, which today has growing relevance with an increasingly older population. We looked at the National Parks and what was needed to ensure they were maintained even as they served a new generation of visitors. Saving San Francisco Bay; Forests for the Future; the National Forum on Wetlands, which Governor Tom Kean chaired for us, and then one on Groundwater, which then-Governor Bruce Babbitt chaired. So much of this work revolved around place.
Perhaps no action of mine at EPA was more respectful of place than a decision I made to prohibit Two Forks, a $500 million dam in Colorado that would have destroyed “The St. Peter’s of Trout Fishing,” a beautiful canyon on the South Platte River. Not long after, at a “Save the Bay” conference in Rhode Island, I noted the variety of interests present—leaders in business and civic groups, restaurant operators, fishermen, boaters. It wasn’t just environmentalists who turned out to champion protection of Narragansett Bay. All of them had a stake in protecting the Bay. By getting together, we learned that a study of the sources of pollution pointed to the silversmiths. No one wanted to put them out of business, but everyone wanted to control the pollution. And people finally came together around a common plan—because they all cherished Narragansett Bay.
A delegation of Texans led by the chairman of the Texas Wildlife Commission, Perry Bass, once came to see me at EPA to ask Corpus Christi be included in the National Estuary Program. The Bay was a treasure, they noted, and there needed to be some forum for getting people together around its problems and how to address them. And the program couldn’t include just environmentalists. I knew Corpus from my childhood years in Harlingen, and had been confirmed there. I told Mr. Bass that the Governor had not nominated Corpus, a requirement for consideration by the EPA. Two hours later we received Governor Ann Richards’ formal nomination. And when I later included Corpus Christi among some 25 recognized estuaries in the program, I received a dozen yellow roses from Ann Richards, the only such appreciation I ever received from a Governor. What the program did was simply to convene all of the stakeholders and to begin the conversation among people—often adversaries on development proposals or pollution issues, but who had not otherwise even met one another.
At the EPA, I asked our Regional Administrators to identify a series of geographic initiatives different from the traditional factory-specific or pollution-point-source regulations and programs that preoccupied us so much, and to propose needed place-based measures—and funds—to protect valued resources. New EPA priorities resulted, from the Great Lakes to the Everglades and to wetlands everywhere. We used our enforcement authority to protect wetlands and carry out the President’s “No net loss of wetlands” policy.
We needed to think anew, in Lincoln’s phrase, where nature and its functions were concerned. In the field of conservation, Americans had done it before. Consider Yosemite, our first national park dating from the Lincoln Administration. It was, writes Simon Schama in his book Landscape and Memory, America’s first sacred garden. But unlike all previous gardens “Yosemite’s protectors reversed conventions by keeping the animals in and the humans out.” We needed to revive that spirit for 20th-century America, and we did.
The New Global Challenge to Place
In the remainder of my time this evening I want to address a challenge that America and the entire world confront: an urgent need for adaptation and renewal. There are several dimensions to the challenge. Most dramatic are those confronting China and India, where 80 percent or more of the buildings extant in 2030 have yet to be built. The design choices, the quality of that new development, will affect the enjoyment, health, and productivity of tens of millions for decades to come. But even more important, the degree to which those cities are planned for long-term sustainability in the face of now-certain climate change may affect their very survival.
The ClimateWorks Foundation, whose board I chair, is active in China, working through the Energy Foundation and its China Sustainable Energy Program. China has embraced carbon reduction and energy efficiency in recent years and is increasingly attentive to proposals to reduce carbon emissions and also pollution, while saving energy. And as we all know, China is experiencing a great surge of urbanization. Part of China’s response to the great rural-to-urban migration is to plan to accommodate 350 million more people in cities, or roughly the equivalent of the population of the United States, in the next few decades. Recent preferences in urban development in China’s larger cities have favored massive blocks of buildings stretching for hundreds of meters on the periphery, and surrounding large interior spaces big enough to contain a number of free-standing houses. The streetscape resulting from such buildings would invite Holly Whyte’s sharp criticism were he alive. Long walls of impenetrable concrete, no variation of use or design fronting the sidewalks, a single gated entryway and even interior courtyard distances daunting to the pedestrian or the bicyclist—none of that responds to human scale or to sensible transit.
When the city of Kunming began work on an addition with the superblock plan, the Energy Foundation pointed out to the mayor the likely consequences: greater dependency on automobiles, a grid uncongenial to public transportation and discouraging to pedestrians. He halted work for 30 days while the Foundation developed a new plan. Jane Jacobs would have approved it: short blocks, development organized around bus rapid transit, mixed uses, more public green space, and larger corridors of shaded parks.
Nor is the challenge confined to urban design. As the Chinese begin to come to terms with carbon emissions and climate change, they face a larger challenge than we do in the United States. All of China’s new households aspire to have refrigerators and air conditioners, stoves and televisions, and very likely a car. The potential for incremental increases in carbon emissions in enormous. Seen in this light, the carbon reductions China has committed to in its new 5-Year Plan are ambitious and laudable.
As in China, Americans today confront a new imperative to rethink how we live. After I finished my army tour, before going to CEQ, I worked for a group called Urban America. It aimed to further the vision of the City Beautiful Movement, but with a dimension that movement was criticized for overlooking: the dimension of poverty alleviation and civil rights. These became paramount themes in urban policy throughout the late 1960s and 1970s.
Today, we confront another, even more transforming determinant of our lives and culture. Harbingers of climate change are undeniable. It may seem that climate change is last year’s news—forgotten and overtaken by understandable preoccupations with the economy. But inexorably, measurably, it is progressing even as the Congress and the country sleepwalk through it. Climate change is to America what the German buildup in the 1930’s was to the British: The threat that grows more menacing even as we determinedly pretend it is not there.
One private-sector player that has expressed itself on the costs associated with climate change is the insurance industry. Swiss Re has estimated that if the shore communities of the four U.S. Gulf Coast states choose not to implement adaptation strategies, they could see annual climate change-related damages jump 65 percent a year to $23 billion by 2030. I moderated a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative and asked the then-CEO of Swiss Re to explain his concern about climate change. He said, we recognize that sea level rise is projected to inundate parts of Shanghai where we do business. And do you continue to insure buildings in Shanghai, I asked? “The tall ones,” he said.
We are beginning to see action in industry and state and local governments. Once again, a very promising response is evident in many cities. The foremost among them is Chicago, which under former Mayor Richard Daley considered its changing climate and moved to plan and prepare for it. A one-week heat wave in July 1995 killed 739 people, more than double the death toll from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The city mobilized its leadership and produced a comprehensive and detailed set of prescriptions to guide future development, the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Its assumptions regarding anticipated climate change are simply stunning. As someone who grew up in Illinois, it strikes me that within the lifetime of my grandchildren the place may be unrecognizable.
Consider the forecasts which so shocked Chicago’s city planners. Assuming worldwide carbon emissions continue, Chicago will have summers like the Deep South, with as many as 72 days over 90 degrees by the end of the century. The city averaged 15 such days in the 20th century. Under a high emissions scenario, the city can expect 45 to 85 days per year with temperatures over 95 degrees. By 2070 Chicago could expect 35 percent more precipitation in winter and spring, but 20 percent less in summer and fall. These conditions will have altered the area’s plant hardiness zone to that of Birmingham, Alabama. The city could see heat-related deaths of 1200 per year. Increasing incidents of freezes and thaws will add costs of millions more in road maintenance and repair, and termites previously controlled by Chicago’s winters will dine out on the city’s wooden-framed housing stock.
The policies adopted in the plan are significant. They require water-permeable paving that can catch 80 percent of runoff; greater tree cover that modulates and absorbs a good percentage of rainfall; light-reflecting pavement with rubbery additives that allow expansion without buckling; installation of air conditioning in schools. The city aims to double tree cover to 23 percent, up from 11 percent in 1991; remove 6 of the most common tree species from the arboretum and, as the city plants some 2,200 trees per year, ban the state tree—the white oak—and the Norway maple, substituting swamp white oaks and bald cypress familiar to the Deep South.
These responses to predictable climate change strike me as prudent and manageable. Retrofitting offices over the past few years has saved Chicago $6 million in energy costs. The Plan considers that their new initiatives will save them money. They have been developed by a practical, non-ideological mayor’s administration. Mayor Daley’s Chicago has led the cities in responding to climate change, but other cities, in fact more than 1,000 of them, have signed on to the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement—among them Seattle and San Francisco, San Antonio and Little Rock, Phoenix and Newark, Los Angeles and Richmond, and Anchorage and Washington, DC. Few cities have gone as far as Chicago, but many, in the words of Melissa Stults, climate director for the mayors’ group, have followed a strategy of “discreetly integrating preparedness into traditional planning efforts.”
This is promising, this is progress. This is how practical leaders do what they can while the country and the world wait for the United States government to make carbon reduction and climate mitigation a priority. And though Chicago’s efforts aim to reduce carbon emissions from their city, their plan necessarily focuses more on adaptation than on mitigation of climate change.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Task Force on Adaptation, and his Blue Ribbon Task Force on the California Delta—the rivers that flow through Sacramento into San Francisco Bay—on both of which I served, concluded that the incidence of severe storms, the loss of shorelines to wave action and sea-level rise of 55 inches by the century's end, together with an increase in forest fires as temperatures rise just one or two degrees, portend significant changes in the life circumstances of the state's people. For example, such a sea-level rise will inundate 1,100 miles of levees that protect some 150,000 people in the Delta. One member of our task force who had overseen the National Academy of Engineering's after-action review of Hurricane Katrina, Ray Seed, predicted that the coincidence of a major storm and water surge in the Delta would cost more lives than Katrina. This prompted our Delta commissioners to recommend in our report that every new home in the area be required to have a door opening to the roof. We decided against recommending that each new home be required to have a boat in the front yard, which Ray Seed proposed based on the Katrina history where neighbors with boats saved more people than the official rescuers did. Rising sea level will confront states like Florida and Alaska with especially serious decisions regarding relocation, armoring the shorelines, whether to build big levee systems, and so on. It has seemed to me that if Castro were to threaten to take even a small portion of the Florida shoreline compared to what sea-level rise portends, the mobilization of resources to repel the incursion would be limitless. Yet in Florida, as in many parts of the country, mention of climate change or global warming is politically incorrect.
Cities across the country, and especially in the Southwest, will have to rethink water use. Some of them have done it before. Los Angeles, Seattle and San Antonio have added millions of new residents while maintaining water use constant. Not just new roads and bridges and airports may be needed, but elevated airport runways and sewage treatment plants, air-conditioned schools, energy-efficient and sun-reflecting buildings, water catchment and green roofs.
The City Beautiful Movement, early in the last century, was born of a concern to counter the ugliness of a frenzy of urban growth. Its proponents—progressives with standards and a desire to both clean up city governments and improve building design—had a far-ranging impact.
Today, it is time for Americans to unite behind a new cause, the City Sustainable, an effective and galvanizing successor to the City Beautiful Movement. Its stirrings have already begun in Chicago and many other cities. Its demands for reduced water use and greater energy efficiency, for better insulation and green roofs, for reflective paving and climate-appropriate vegetation, and more tree cover and a more congenial environment for pedestrians, bicyclists, and for public transportation—all of this can be accomplished In fact, it is being done. Its success may save us from the ideological gridlock in Washington.
I joined Urban America, Inc., right out of planning school because of its mission to modernize and promote the City Beautiful Movement with attention to civil rights and poverty. America needs a revival of the progressive energies and the creative vision that characterized that movement. A moment of vast and transforming change is now underway. The broad lines of that change are generally understood, though their precise character is unpredictable. And their ramifications can be profound.
For America, as we transform and armor our cities against severe floods and extended droughts, against killing heat waves and snap cold spells and winter storms, against water scarcity and stressed power generation, we have choices. We can learn the lessons of successful placemaking and combine them with the imperatives of preparing for a new climate. These are not insuperable challenges.
As I look around America now I am struck by how powerful are the portents of change, and how Americans’ responses to those portents can be so different. All of this will require new urban policies. Our response to climate change is not solely the province of environmental or energy policy. It is very much place-based policy, in the best sense. And it will require a change not just of city planning but of the culture of cities, supported by citizens and all of the wisdom and creativity of the public and private sectors alike. I will close with a quotation from the distinguished Senator, Daniel PatrickMoynihan, who knew something about cities and about architecture and about wise government and getting hard things done:
“In some forty years of government work I have learned one thing for certain. . . . the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. Thanks to this interaction, we’re a better society in nearly all respects than we were.”
Thank you all, and good night.