Being pro-development

Although it may sound strange, I am pro-development. And I believe that all environmentalists should be.

In the past 100 years and especially after World War II, we've built sprawling cities, massive industries and a consumer economy that are ravaging the environment. Now the only solution is to build our way out of the mess. We must keep on developing, but in ways that heal the planet.

This will mean withdrawing from sprawling land uses and building compact urban villages. Getting out of cars and building alternative forms of transportation. Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Creating closed-loop production systems that mimic biological systems and create no wastes. Restoring the ecological integrity of lakes and streams. Developing sustainable economies that don't depend on constant growth.

Over and over, environmentalists are forced to fight bad developments. One of our greatest challenges is to create a positive vision of the developments we want. To do that, we first need to broaden the range of available choices. After all, the main reason we are always against things is that we're given impossibly bad choices. It always seems to be a choice between a highway interchange at Point A or Point B, or a choice between jobs and pollution.

I'm tired of those false choices. Instead of the interchange, I want a mass transit system that will make it unnecessary to drive.

On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I found a good example of this desire to broaden the range of possibilities. The State of Pennsylvania wants to spend $2 billion to build new freeways around the Mon Valley area and promote economic development. But the director of the Allegheny County Planning Department, Raymond Reaves, says there are lots of better ways to invest $2 billion of public money.

After making sure that the existing road system is well maintained, he would upgrade the local schools so that they could lead the transition to a post-manufacturing economy. He would turn the Mon Valley into an international research, development, training and education center in the environmental field. He would invest in fiber optic cables and other forms of advanced telecommunications. And he would create a center for magnetic levitation research and manufacturing so the Mon Valley could produce high-speed rail systems for North America.

"I have left a few hundred million dollars for you to spend. But you get the idea," says Reaves. "Rather than attempting to re-create yesterday's economy with unimaginative ideas, such as expressways, let's build the future."

He adds, "Critics will say that the funds which might be available to build the expressways cannot be used for these other activities. My response is that is a failure of vision and a failure to use our wealth for the appropriate investments. We need not be captive to the past and to the status quo. We can change laws. We can choose our future."

¬óDavid Beach


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