Possibilities for Lexington’s Future

People around here are having a tough time envisioning a positive path to the future.  So many of us a re committed to “life as we know it.”  But change is always with us.  And the changes we are facing are fundamental. 

Below, is an example of thinking in positive ways about how to face and adapt to those changes.  Seattle is having a great city-wide discussion about what it would mean to be carbon-neutral by 2030.   These discussions involve land use and transportation, water, local food, responsible business, waste, civics and more.  With each section comes a snapshot outlining an alternative to the dead ends we find ourselves in today. Then, on-line resources are provided to encourage deeper learning. 

This is exactly the kind of discussions we need to be having here.  Read and see what you think.  From worldchanging.com:

If Seattle can in fact lead the way toward North American climate neutral cities, it may well have an impact far greater than the size of its population would suggest. It may, for instance, help accelerate the race towards a bright green future already engaged by cities like Vancouver, Portland and San Francisco. It may even help spur further action in internationally leading cities like Copenhagen, Melbourne and Stockholm. Since much of the innovation needed to achieve ecologically low-impact prosperity is urban innovation, accelerating this race is in everyone’s interest.

Our own Alex Steffen first proposed Seattle’s goal just a few months ago during his Town Hall talks. Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin introduced Alex on the first night of the two-talk event, and has since used what he heard that night to embolden the local government to finally take action.

“Alex Steffen’s talk last November inspired me to think about the next step,” Conlin said. “Seattle has done a lot to reduce our climate footprint, but we need to do a lot more. This year, the Council will work with the Mayor and executive departments to map out specific goals and objectives on climate neutrality.”

No doubt this is a cause for celebration and congratulations, but after the excitement fades, we here in Seattle will need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Becoming the first climate neutral city in the United States will be no small task, and the City will need all the help it can get, as well as pressure to take even bolder steps. For the goal of carbon neutrality to translate into Seattle emerging as a bright green city, we’ll need full citizen participation.

And that too should be cause for celebration in Seattle. This is a goal so hugely important and challenging that all the residents of this city will need to lend their skill and talent to make it work. Because carbon neutrality will involve reworking many fundamental systems (including transportation, energy, planning and food), we will have numerous opportunities to try new things, start new enterprises, create new customs and re-engage with our communities. Indeed, that chance to reimagine the way things work is one of the best benefits of a push to carbon neutrality because it means new businesses, a competitive advantage in the bright green economy, and green jobs.

It is our duty as responsible citizens to be informed. So we’ll need to know what carbon neutrality means, what it entails and how we will know when we are headed in the right direction. A good place to start is with these videos from Alex Steffen’s talks at Town Hall Seattle.

When I think about carbon neutrality, I think not only about the massive challenges it presents, but also about how different and better it could make our lives. From my vantage point I see that there are several areas that will change greatly once we start taking on this challenge. This will be a huge exploration, not all roads will lead to success, but it’s important to keep imagining what the future of cities and the economy will look like.

Let’s imagine 10 moments of an average day that might be different in a carbon neutral city. The following are a collection of ideas, from my point of view. They are a thought explorations in how I think carbon neutrality will benefit cities and the people who live there. Even if your city has not announced carbon neutrality as a goal, you too can think about just how different your city would be in a bright green future.
Land Use

Right now, most cities are designed around cars. Streets, businesses and housing developments are built around the needs of the car. But in a carbon neutral city, cars are no longer king. Experts in this area say that land use policy and zoning laws could be designed with people in mind, to bring us nearer to the people we want to see, and the goods and services we need to live and work. Though these new plans, development would be more compact, people would walk where they need to go and green spaces would proliferate. Imagine living close by the grocery store, bus stop, and gym.

To explore this issue more, see the following articles:

Free Parking Isn’t Free
My Other Car is a Bright Green City
Deep Walkability

Right now, most people spend inordinate amounts of time in their cars (and in Seattle, cars are the major source of greenhouse gas emissions). But in a carbon neutral city, innovations in transportation help to shift the focus from moving the most cars the farthest distances in the least time, to getting the most people to the places they want to be most effectively. Transportation now focuses on efficiency, access and safety. Less driving can save our families a huge amount of money and we can read, play games, work or talk with a friends while we get there.

For more on this ideas, check out the following articles:

New Report: U.S. Road Funding From Non-Road Users Doubled in 25 Years
Commuter Rail vs. Population Density
Pioneer City 2030
Smart Grids, Grid Computing and the New World of Energy
Making the Grid “Smart”
Making Fuel Consumption Visible
New Energy Hubs

Like energy, most people rarely think about where their water comes from, how it gets to our faucets or where it goes once it leaves the sink. Also, similar to energy, most people rarely think about how much water it takes to produce our food and consumer goods. But in a carbon neutral city, it’s something everyone will think about because they will have more information and access to the resource. Here, every raindrop that falls on a building is used, an each drop is recycled and used again onsite. Water use is clearly marked in our homes and on the things we buy. Innovators tell us that we will be able to capture all our water on site and reuse it before we send it away. Transparency specialist say we’ll know what we need to to choose the best products.

For more on how this works, explore these articles:

Making Water Consumption Visible
Saving The World, Drip by Drip
Ecohouse Brazil

Right now, most people get in their cars and drive to the grocery store. The food sold inside has traveled thousands of miles to end up on the shelves and we know little to nothing about the resources or labor it took to produce it. But in the carbon neutral city, we’ll live so close to food sellers you can walk there. Farming innovators say that, with the exception of a few international products (coffee, chocolate, etc), most of the food available will come from nearby farms, if not from farms within the city itself. More people will grow their own food. Educated on the physical and climate affects of meat, most of us choose only to eat locally raised chicken on special occasions.

More on food:

Food of the Future, and the Future of Food
Local Food Plus: A Model for Food Citizenship in North America
Food Carbon, Corporate Farming and Transnational Community-Supported Ag
Will Allen and the Urban Farming Revolution
Growing More Farmers


Right now, most products have a 30-minute to three-year lifespan. Most goods eventually end up in landfills — here or in foreign countries with more lax environmental laws — or even in the ocean. In a carbon neutral city, cradle-to-cradle designers create goods with their next use in mind. The time between its creation and death are no longer the most interesting parts are a products lifespan. What happens next and what it will become in its next life are the more juicy design tasks. Here, products are less toxic because they have to be used longer and over again, are not designed to break but to be fix and are meant to be shared and hacked.

For more ideas on how this will work and who’s already doing it, click on the articles below.

Strategic Consumption: How to Change the World with What You Buy
Bright Green Retail
Cradle to Cradle Design & Intelligent Materials Pooling
The Maker’s Bill Of Rights


Right now, some people in our community are forgotten and neglected. Societal myths are deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life, and those without care and attention are there because they want to be, aren’t good enough or made serious mistakes. But in the carbon neutral city, it’s essential to include and support everyone. Bright Green City philosophy states that equality is an essential part of creating sustainability. Research shows that people who are taken care of and shown respect are able to think beyond their basic needs, and have the energy and motivation to take care of themselves and others. Carbon neutrality is only possible through equality.

For more on why justice is a critical part of the sustainability movement, see the articles below:

The Housing & Transportation Affordability Index
Food, Fairness and Foot Access
Making Social Equity an Issue of Public Health
Principle 17: Environmental Justice

Right now, waste is a thing most people throw Away. This Away is a place we don’t have to think about, nor are we affected by. Most people live their whole lives without ever thinking about the impacts of their waste. Empty packaging, uneaten food, dead batteries and out-of-date technology are tossed to the great Away. But in carbon neutral cities, we are all aware that there is no Away. Each item is design to be reborn as something new or is capable of decomposing. Compost masters work together at composting centers to create new organic material, reuse specialists collect and redistribute larger items and technology workers are trained to retool and upgrate technology and small items effortlessly at maker stations.

For more on how and where this is already happening, see the stories below

Designing a Zero Waste City
Eric Lombardi’s Zero Waste Park
Zero Waste, Perpetual Food
Recovery Parks, Free Geeks and Plasma: Vancouver Debates Zero Waste


Right now, most business people are taught to let the bottom line trump all other concerns. Making money is the sole purpose of any venture and not much should get in a business’s way when trying to make as much money as possible. In a carbon neutral city, business people are taught to care about the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Success here is not just measured by how much money that company can make, but also by how much good they can do for the people and places they operate in and for. Here, people reward companies that support carbon neutrality as a business goal.

For more on bright green business, see the stories below

The New Environmentalists: Bankers, Insurers and Accountants
Thinking about Sustainable Business
Corporations and Human Rights: How to Fill the Gap
How Can Bright Green Cities Thrive Without Capital?

Right now, my feeling is that most people feel disengaged from politics. We feel like our votes barely count, and even if we do we’re merely choosing between which candidate is less evil. Everyday, more people grow more cynical about this process. But in the carbon neutral city, people must show up to make it work. We realize together that to be engaged and optimistic is a powerful political statement. We find ways to plug in locally, become more involved and make the system more transparent. More things feel possible because they are.

For more on Bright Green Civics, see the stories below:
Letter from Copenhagen – Cities and Citizenship
Special Innovation Zone: Imagination Without Regulation
Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities?
The Open Source Movement
The Politics of Optimism


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