Strong Towns on climate change

Duluth Minnesota

Strong Towns, which has up until now, primarily focused on efficient use of infrastructure and fiscal sustainability of our cities, is laying out their platform on climate change.

As we all know, however, local innovation continues (accelerates?) even when national leadership is incomplete. Here are three issues that Strong Towns will address as they pursue their own strategies to deal with climate change:

Pressure on credit will continue to increase in communities viewed as particularly vulnerable to natural disaster associated with climate change. Federal and state resources in the future look to be flat, diminishing or encumbered. The costs to insure housing or commercial property deemed vulnerable to disaster are higher, and claims resulting from natural disasters can increase the premiums of all policy holders. The key finding here is that investable public and private capital – able to educate and train Americans and finance new businesses, for example – will be under greatest stress in areas hit hardest by climate events. Strong Towns need to orient toward more density and less infrastructure costs per capita, as one way of managing this stress.

Even presuming that some of the increase is due to improved measurement, the rising incidence of natural disasters means that Strong Towns must anticipate continued volatility in our weather. Public infrastructure planning needs to anticipate the likelihood of damage by natural disasters. Clustering residential and commercial development will reduce risk; it may also allow us to reduce the costs of mitigating ongoing threats. Beyond the fiscal merits of a more compact development pattern, denser places are more protectable places.

The relationship of climate change and public health is an emerging field. While much health policy is formulated at the federal and state levels, counties and cities are the main implementers of place-specific plans and care. While we don’t yet understand the prospective health effects of climate change, it’s apparent that local communities have an opportunity to play a key role. Work on that micro scale may distinguish those cities and towns that invest in addressing climate change.

This first point has been resonating strongly with me lately.  The world’s largest investors (many of the people who hold your retirement funds) and insurance companies are already seeing their businesses to be impacted by climate change.  Physically and economically resilient cities require a different approach in a changing climate, and I’m glad Strong Towns is lending their voice to this message.

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