Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A green future for Long Beach

Daniel Brezenoff

Here in the midst of our municipal elections, the time is perfect to talk about the future of Long Beach. On behalf of the thousands of Long Beach citizens concerned about economic and environmental issues, from tourism to pollution to gasoline prices, I am proposing a 10-year plan to transform this city into an international model of sustainable urban living for the 21st Century.

Imagine every city vehicle and building powered by clean, renewable resources. Imagine if, instead of faceless shopping malls identical to those in every major American city, developers were encouraged to create sustainable shopping and living centers that added energy to the power grid rather than depleting it. Imagine a public transportation so reliable and extensive, and a bicycling and walking infrastructure that so ably met the needs of cyclists and pedestrians that owning a car would be a luxury, rather than a near necessity. Imagine tourists flocking to Long Beach to see a solar-powered city, clean beaches, public gardens rivaling any in the world, and a healthy citizenry breathing clean air, eating locally grown produce and smiling with pride at our historic achievements.

All this and more is not only possible, but within reach. All it takes is imaginative, committed leadership and a slight shift in priorities. It is time to think past quarterly and annual financial reports and instead make the needs of future generations paramount. It is time to make Long Beach the world's greenest city, an example for all the world's urban centers to emulate.

Why Long Beach? Why not? We have access to sunshine and open space needed to utilize solar and windpower. We have a generally flat landscape, which makes bicycling and other forms of alternative transportation feasible. And we have an often struggling economy and, with the departure or downsizing of many local industries, an identity gap that needs to be filled. Sustainable economics would mean increased revenue for local businesses and for the city. Residents would save money on energy costs at every level, and that money would be diverted to the local economy. Tourism would increase. Green planning, which increases community cohesion through better use of space and an improved quality of life, could lead to a significant decrease in crime.

The oil economy is ultimately doomed. Increasing populations combined

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with rising economic expectations and consumption are a disastrous recipe. Leadership at the federal and state levels is unreliable at best, reactionary at worst. Long Beach is big enough to tap the resources needed for a conversion to sustainable energy and transportation, and to gain international notoriety in doing so, but small enough to make such a conversion logistically realistic and meaningful citywide.

Just what does it mean to green a city this size? In addition to improved public transportation using clean energy, it means public and private gardens, including food-producing ones. It means commercial centers powered by renewable resources, and manufacturing and selling green technology from organic food and locally produced clothing to energy-saving light bulbs and hybrid cars, and everything in between. It means conservation of water and electricity in every school and every home, without having to sacrifice quality of life. It means offering tax breaks to home and business owners who stop using the electrical grid and start contributing to it through solar energy. It means more parks and fewer cars. It means setting an example as Seattle and Portland, for example, have done of what is possible with vision, planning, and commitment.

Eventually, every city in the world will have to go green or perish. Long Beach can wait until gas prices are at seven bucks a gallon and our water is so dirty no one can swim or fish in it (if we havent passed that point already), or we can lead the way. I call upon our city council, and particularly the newly elected or reelected members, to begin a serious study of the myriad ways Long Beach can become the greenest, cleanest, healthiest and most economically sustainable city in the world.

Daniel Brezenoff is a social worker and teacher in Long Beach, and a member of the California Green Party and the Long Beach Greens.

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