For the past several months I have been following the development of the New Songdo development currently under construction approximately 65 kilometers south of Seoul. New Songdo is an entirely new city being constructed by the US real estate developer, the Gale Company.
The town is interesting on multiple levels. It has been designated by the South Korean government as an economic free trade area with a decidedly globalized orientation. The town’s primary language will be English and it apparently is envisioned as a laboratory for technological and ecological innovation.
It, essentially, is a new utopia for a post-carbon informational age!
Given this hype, its prospects are dim. However, it is notable that the entire town has been labeled as a “Green Urbanism Pilot Project” by the US Green Building Council which is granting the town a LEED-ND designation. The LEED-ND is a recent designation that rates the town plan on a variety of environmental performance measures al contributing to long-term sustainability.
While the last post discussed the viability of the Great Lakes Basin as a sustainable region in contrast to the water-deprived US southwest, recent news reports point out that the Basin is not an ecological panacea.
The Chicago Tribune reports on an exemption granted to oil giant, British Petroleum, that allows them to exceed federal limits on mercury discharges into Lake Michigan. The exemption also lets the company’s Whiting, Indiana refinery to dump threatening levels of benzene, toluene, lead, and nickel.
Meanwhile, in Northeastern Illinois, elevated levels of asbestos waste have been found on state park beaches.
While the state EPAs of both Indiana and Illinois have significant authority to restrict and monitor these pollutants, the fact that the federal EPA has become more permissive over the past 6 years when it comes to enforcing federal law is also a serious issue.
The Toronto Star has an interesting article linking climate change and the future of some Great Lakes cities. Population migration trends in the United States over the past 30 years are well known: de-industrialization in the Northeast and Midwest contributed to the depopulation of many cities while Sunbelt regions in the Southwest and Southeast gained population through expansion of service-sector economic opportunities and relatively low-costs of housing. For cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo and Rochester the results have been devastating while cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix have been thriving.
The reality of climate change, however, is causing many to question the wisdom of increased growth in Sunbelt regions. The Toronto Star focuses on the specific issue of water. Marc Reisner’s excellent book Cadillac Desert chronicled the problems with water acquisition to fuel growth in the arid West. Climate change threatens to exacerbate many of the water challenges in Western states. Increasing droughts will be inadequate to recharge groundwater aquifers while the rivers that supply Nevada, California, New Mexico, and Arizona are threatened by decreased snowfall.
The Rustbelt cities, however, have a significant surplus of water. According to the article, the Great Lakes basin has about a quarter of the world’s freshwater supply. This advantage should place these metropolitan regions at a distinct advantage for future growth. Of course, the regime of federal governmental policies in the US fails to take into account issues of water scarcity and regional impacts of growth. In the absence of a change in federal policy, it will be interesting to see if these cities can leverage their ecological advantages to reconfigure their failing economies.