Land Matters: Obama’s Green Education

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The dust is still settling as I write this. Last Tuesday night, when Barack Obama’s victory was announced, my inner-city neighborhood erupted in absolute pandemonium. At 14th and U streets, people of all colors and persuasions were screaming, hugging, climbing up on bus shelters and dancing, and waving American flags in the street in a public display of sheer joy unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
 
A few days later, the optimism is still palpable in this town. But when Obama takes office January 20, what can we realistically expect him to accomplish? The situation he will inherit—an economic meltdown, wars on two fronts, other international challenges—is daunting. Amidst the imperative to address crucial national issues, where does that leave our environment?
 
Obama has consistently talked an encouraging game on the environment, and in his acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago, above, Obama pledged to listen. If you had 15 minutes with a receptive, environmentally friendly president of the United States, what would you as a landscape architect say?
 
Just to jog your thinking, Obama has already signaled that his administration will initiate a top global priority: ratifying international accords on climate change. Reversing the Bush administration’s stonewalling of the Kyoto Protocols and subsequent global environmental accords that made the United States a backslider among first-world nations, the Obama administration will likely push Congress to ratify the next stage of climate accords next year.
 
But the Obama administration may need to know that there are local and regional environmental initiatives that can ameliorate global warming—and they would involve the skills of landscape architects. These include designing “smart growth” communities that are less dependent on driving. They include more alternative transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists who don’t spew carbon into the air and schools sited once again in walkable neighborhoods. They include rebuilding our existing cities where the infrastructure for transit already exists and where policies promulgated by Obama, whose electorate came overwhelmingly from those cities, could usher in an era, not of the so-called New Urbanism, but of genuine Renewed Urbanism.
 
What about the public lands that landscape architects care about? I am sure the Obama administration would listen if landscape architects advocate a return to the wise federal oversight of these lands that has withered in the past eight years. Oversight that forbids drilling or mining on sensitive lands in Utah and elsewhere. That discourages siting belching power plants near national parks. That renews funding for the upkeep of those parks, national monuments, and national forests. But surely there are other issues regarding our public lands of great interest to landscape architects.
 
What message would you like to send President-elect Obama on the environment? Email me, or post your comments.
 
J. William “Bill” Thompson, FASLA
Editor / bthompson@asla.org
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