Are We There Yet?

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A message by Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, CSU President

Fifth Edition of CSU NEWS

This question, that at first innocent question that all parents know will eventually turn into an exasperating experience might well be applied to our current circumstances. The presumption is that the destination will be worthy of the journey to get there. It is also assumed that there is some plan, some roadmap, some ETA that will instill confidence in the travelers, surely the conductor and hopefully the passengers as well. Are we on the verge of a kinder and gentler time? Today we are on global journeys with multiple critical destinations. Below some thoughts on global and local.

Surviving  SARS-CoV-2,  the disease commonly known as Covid-19 is the biggest “are we there yet” of the day. When the world agrees that it is under control we will be there but for now the issues raised, the policies proposed, and the consequences of those policies are debated daily. As we go to press Americans and others well vaccinated are being welcomed in the EU as travelers and tourists. However not everyone is comfortable being out and about globally. India and Brazil are facing many challenges. Issues of vaccine availability and even oxygen underscore global inequities. The effect of COVID-19 is just being felt. The American birthrate has fallen to its lowest in 40 years, and elsewhere it has fallen as well. Are we experiencing a welcome population control or unwelcome population decline? Are we there yet?

Confronting Climate Change: even as the United States has rejoined the Paris Accord and new technologies to combat climate change, (including temperature rise, CO2, methane, and other pollutant production, and the after-effects of ice calving, permafrost melt, loss of biodiversity) there is little evidence that the ocean liner is being turned. While more and more countries, big players like China and India, declare goals and objectives to correct our course by mid-century an equal number of big-time players, including the traditional energy companies, only “greenwash” their activities and keep heading down a path of dismay. According to NASA “ In the absence of major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by 2.5°C to 4.5°C (4.5°F to 8°F) by 2100”.

Recent presentations by long term advocates like Edward Mazria suggest some positive movement and even optimism. However, this will be the biggest “are we there yet” we face this generation and right now, logically, invites the answer “no”.   

Rationalizing Mobility: are we nearing the close of the era of obsessive car primacy and automobile frenzy? Will AVs and EVs be able to alter the desire for people to have their own propriety bubble in which to circulate? As car companies have now stared to advertise cars as an individual sanctuary, forget actual driving, have they understood a human desire for the privacy provided by a luxury cockpit at rest ? And spatially, will we finally come to grips with “curb management” and the free parking that has been enjoyed by car owners for a hundred years? The contest between pedestrians, bicycles, electric scooters, skateboards and cars has been dramatically amplified by COVID-19. Add in to the mix the conflicts between pedestrian user groups such as, in New York City, the elderly, the disabled, and those with side-by-side baby carriages! There is an amazing amount of creative thinking be applied to planning, designing, programming, and managing the space between buildings. The super-block program in Barcelona, the open streets initiative in Paris, the Open Streets in New York and in cities all over the US . After 100 years of automobile primacy this is great but, are we there yet?

Achieving Tolerance and Equity: One of the most dramatic indications of inequity today is the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As noted above, the pandemic has its own category, but it is intimately entwined with issues equity, inclusion, tolerance, and diversity. COVID-19 has revealed the imbalance already present through ongoing global conflicts and crimes against humanity, national and international, built around painful fear, prejudice, and intolerance, as reported by Genocide Watch. The Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uyghurs and Muslims in China, the indigenous peoples in Brazil’s rainforest, the Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan and Gedeo peoples in Ethiopia, and so on in Saudi Arabia, India, and South Sudan and other locations around the world and the atrocious multi-racist actions and ongoing gun violence in the United States. The contest for resources that are developing because of political intolerance, resource depletion and /or distribution (such as water, energy, health and education), and the effects of climate change on environmental livability are going to further tax our ability to live in harmony. We are going to need more ways and means of resolving conflicts and more creativity and innovation in re-imaging the world’s limited resources. Are we there yet? This is a moving target and getting there is a Bergsonian question.

Are we there yet? Could be asked of a longer list. We could review achieving safe and stable energy, meeting the demand for affordable, equitable housing, managing the health of our oceans, rivers, and streams, and any number of other matters addressed by the New Urban agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Many of these issues will be addressed in the upcoming UN General Assembly  High-Level Meeting on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (“Quito +5”) to be held on April 2022 . I urge everyone to stay tuned, stay engaged, take stock, see where we are, and help to get us close to our goals as we emerge from this COVID-19 time.