Book Review

Review of new edition of a free ebook, by John Plodinec, Independent Scholar.

Once again, Claire has asked me to review the latest in the Resilience Matters series – this one subtitled Opportunities for Action to Strengthen Communities. The ebook, again edited by Laurie Mazur, consists of 48 short essays, most of which have appeared as opinion pieces in various periodicals. The ebook is free, and can be downloaded here.

The Introductory essay by Laurie Mazur sets the tone for much of the rest of the book: 
In this hopeful and frustrating year, contributors to the Urban Resilience Project celebrated our collective progress, while highlighting how far we have yet to go.”   

The other 47 essays echo this in part or whole.  They are organized into seven sections:

  1. Climate and Environmental Justice
  2. Climate Adaptation
  3. Sustainable Cities for All
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Energy
  6. Food, Health and Water
  7. Policy and Funding

Many of the essays were directed at the incoming Biden team, and reflect Progressives’ hopes/expectations for “Build Back Better.”

I found Section I of little value. After reading through it, I had to wonder if any arms were broken from the authors patting themselves on the back so much. The one exception was “Climate Manipulation? Not All ‘Solutions’ Should be Advanced,” by Stephens and Surprise. They (rightfully, in my opinion) take aim at the National Academies’ endorsement of solar geoengineering. They shoot it down primarily from the standpoint of governance and “social justice,” unfortunately (Again, in my opinion. The potential unintended consequences of this seem to far outweigh its potential benefits.). And to me that’s what makes this e-book so problematical – it seems to be an illegitimate child born of the climate cult and anti-capitalism.

I’m not saying that the climate is not changing – it is. On average, coastal cities are sinking into the sea, and temperatures and precipitation are rising. On average, but not everywhere – some cities are actually rising relative to the sea; others have seen steady or decreasing temperatures and precipitation. Those cities with the highest rates of sea level rise are actually subsiding as fast or faster than the sea is rising (e.g., Miami, Norfolk, NOLA). In spite of the claims of some, there is no discernible trend in either the frequency or magnitude of hurricanes and, if anything, the incidence of tornadoes has slightly decreased over my lifetime. But nearly all of the authors assume that climate change is an “existential threat” – the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine should have taught all of us what threats are really “existential.”

I’m also not denying that some capitalists have done bad things. But using the misdeeds of some as a reason to abolish capitalism is a bit like saying “Let’s stop all immigration, because some immigrants commit horrendous crimes.” Only those steeped in the 1619 Project’s bastardized version of history can accept that capitalism = racism.

Sections II and III, on the other hand, had some worthwhile nuggets. Abigail Hart’s take on improving land and water management in California seems solid. Laurie Mazur’s introduction to Penn’s Navigate the Flood resources spotlighted a very useful repository. Her essay “Can a Park Prevent Gentrification?” is less about gentrification and more about empowering residents in deciding their neighborhoods’ futures. Her interview with Eric Anthony Johnson on economic and neighborhood development in Dallas during the pandemic was also very good, as was her description of the Yesler Terrace (Seattle) Arts Initiative. Although it was not presented as such, Ilana Preuss’ take on development in Columbia, MO, is a good exposition of how to do “economic gardening.” Dan Kaplan’s brief “prescription” for future urban development was also useful.

I found Section IV on infrastructure sort of “meh.” These were mostly aimed at pushing legislators to fund certain programs (e.g., “Justice 100”) with little coherence among them. One exception was Todd Litman’s take on the nitty-gritty of actually implementing the “new mobility.” I really liked his questions to be asked and answered by planners:

•  Is it affordable? Can disadvantaged groups use it?

•  How will it affect non-users, particularly disadvantaged groups?

•  What infrastructure will it require and who should pay?

•  How will it affect public health and safety? What risks does it impose on others?

•  How will it affect community livability, natural environments and resource consumption?

•  Will it increase or reduce total vehicle travel? Will it increase or reduce sprawl?

Section V on energy was uneven in quality. Laurie Mazur’s take on energy efficiency in the urban setting was quite good; the three pieces by Lewis Milford were, frankly, awful – polemics divorced from facts. Nowhere was nuclear mentioned, let alone considered. Several of the authors in this section seemed to have no conception of the economics of energy consumption, or that most consumers don’t really care where their electricity comes from, they just want it to be reliable and affordable. Clean energy – wind and solar – are neither, though they can and should be a part of the energy mix.

Section VI on food, health and water was more of the same uneven mix. However, the last two essays – “Bring Innovation to Farms and Food” by Munson and especially “Let’s Keep Teaching Outdoors” by Latane – both seemed to be useful takes on current problems.

The last section on policy and funding consisted of seven “special pleadings” aimed at gaining funding for the authors’ various causes. The one exception: Albert George’s “FEMA: Don’t Drive the Gullah-Geechee from Their Land.” Relocation of those living in areas at risk from natural disasters is one way to reduce the (financial and sometimes human) costs of disasters. Those who push this often ignore the loss of social capital that this approach inevitably entails.

This is the fourth ebook in this series. The essays here were generally written in the heady early days of the Biden Administration – before all the gaffes and missteps tarnished its luster. Many of them seem like the faded roses of last year’s prom. However, many are still timely and useful.

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