More than ever, Americans rely on independent special districts to provide public services. The special district—which can be as small as a low-budget mosquito abatement district or as vast as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—has become the most common form of local governance in the United States. In Governing the Tap, Megan Mullin examines the consequences of specialization and the fragmentation of policymaking authority through the lens of local drinking-water policy.
The emerging metropolitan regional-equity movement promotes innovative policies to ensure that all communities in a metropolitan region share resources and opportunities equally. Too often, low-income communities and communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of pollution and lack access to basic infrastructure and job opportunities. The metropolitan regional-equity movement—sometimes referred to as a new civil rights movement—works for solutions to these problems that take into account entire metropolitan regions: the inner-city core, the suburbs, and exurban areas.
In the nineteenth century, horse transportation consumed vast amounts of land for hay production, and the intense traffic and ankle-deep manure created miserable living conditions in urban centers. The introduction of the horseless carriage solved many of these problems but has created others. Today another revolution in transportation seems overdue. Transportation consumes two-thirds of the world's petroleum and has become the largest contributor to global environmental change.
What is a camp? In August 2005, television news showed viewers an estimated 20,000 Katrina evacuees camped out in the Superdome, Cindy Sheehan protesting the Iraq War on President Bush's doorstep in "Camp Casey," Texas, and Israeli and Palestinian young people at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine discussing the evacuation of settlement camps in the Gaza Strip.
Urban sidewalks, critical but undervalued public spaces, have been sites for political demonstrations and urban greening, promenades for the wealthy and the well-dressed, and shelterless shelters for the homeless. On sidewalks, decade after decade, urbanites have socialized, paraded, and played, sold their wares, and observed city life. These many uses often overlap and conflict, and urban residents and planners try to include some and exclude others.
The internationalization of economies and other changes that accompany globalization have brought about a paradoxical reemergence of the local. A significant but largely unstudied aspect of new local-global relationships is the growth of "localist movements"--efforts to reclaim economic and political sovereignty for metropolitan and other subnational regions.
Fresh Pond Reservation, at the northwest edge of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been described as a "landscape loved to death." Certainly it is a landscape that has been changed by its various uses over the years and one to which Cantabridgeans and Bostonians have felt an intense attachment.
The idea of "sustainability" has gone mainstream. Thanks to Prius-driving movie stars, it's even hip. What began as a grassroots movement to promote responsible development has become a bullet point in corporate ecobranding strategies. In Hijacking Sustainability, Adrian Parr describes how this has happened: how the goals of an environmental movement came to be mediated by corporate interests, government, and the military.
America is becoming a container landscape of big boxes connected by highways. When a big box store upsizes to an even bigger box "supercenter" down the road, it leaves behind more than the vacant shell of a retail operation; it leaves behind a changed landscape that can't be changed back. Acres of land have been paved around it. Highway exits lead to it; local roads end at it. With thousands of empty big box stores spread across America, these sites have become a dominant feature of the American landscape.
How will the world work in the post-oil, post-coal future? Our transition could take the form of disastrous collapses in economic, political, and economic systems—or of a radical reinvention of energy. We could relapse into a new Dark Ages, or we could shift to a new economic model and international order that's not based on (the appropriately named) "fossil" fuels but on renewable energy. No matter what, global warming and resource scarcity will force us to do something.