La Fabrique de la Cité's Newsletter #93

#93 - 20 August 2021

A warm tomorrow

When faced with the challenges of the coming decades, there are two opposing worldviews: on the Western side of the Atlantic, the focus is on disruptive innovation and technology; on this end, there is talk of reforms or taxes.

"The future torments us, the past holds us back, that's why the present eludes us" : nowhere more than in Europe does this quote from Flaubert hold true. The multiplication of prospective reports here and there is an indication of this among others. In May, the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, presented España 2050, a 675-page document with contributions from more than a hundred experts from various fields and ideological backgrounds, presenting a 30-year plan for the country's development aimed at improving performance on key issues such as education, health, pensions, employment, taxes and the environment over the next three decades. "Projecting into the future is another way of saying that we believe in the future," the Spanish leader said in presenting his report. In France, the creation, almost a year ago, of the Haut commissariat pour le plan (High Commission for the Plan) stems from the same idea that we need to draw the future, if possible a future that is both possible and desirable. 

Drawing the future in order to try to tame it: such is indeed the aim. In this, European leaders unwittingly pay a fine tribute to Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush's former Secretary of Defense, who has just passed away and whose famous quote on the known and the unknown is more relevant than ever: "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones."

Relevant because the pandemic has shown us that the "known unknown" is well and truly there, ready to emerge at any moment, feeding in passing the idea that after all, the "unknown unknown" may also be tomorrow. For therein lies the limit of these prospective exercises in democracies made even more impatient by a pandemic that never ends: 2040, 2050, no doubt... but what about 2022, 2023, 2024, etc.? Reconciling tomorrow and the day after tomorrow is probably the most difficult political exercise today. President Biden's policy on climate change should be read in this light. By calling the years 2020-2030 the "decisive decade", he explains that it is the decisions of the 2020s that will shape the world of 2050, the world of carbon neutrality to which the nations have committed themselves through the Paris Agreement.  

This reasoning is common sense, since the mobility and energy production infrastructures and the buildings we are building today will still be there in less than 30 years.This is also the philosophy of the French Blanchard-Tirole report, which explains what needs to be done today to meet the three economic challenges that are only going to increase: climate change, inequality and demographic aging. However, the tone is different: on one side of the Atlantic, the emphasis is on disruptive innovations, technology and the resulting transformations in our lives and jobs; on the other, the talk is of reforms or taxes. On the one hand, the new American Lorenzo de' Medici - the Gates, Musk and Bezos - make us dream with innovations and Promethean ambitions, underground, on the ground, in the air and beyond; on the other hand, economists and Nobel Prize winners confront us with reality, with "the truth, the bitter truth" to respond to the order of politicians who look to the future against the backdrop of the Yellow Vests.  

These are indeed two opposing representations of the world: to dream the world in order to shape it by one's own hand; to tell the world in order to try to suffer it as little as possible. In the coming decade, where will the brighter tomorrow be? – Cécile Maisonneuve, President

→ This op-ed is from Cécile Maisonneuve's bi-monthly columns and can be found in its entirety on the L'Express website here (in French).

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PROJECT ON HOLD – In 2019, after years of struggle, then-Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pushed New York to become the first U.S. city to adopt the congestion charge – charging drivers entering Manhattan's busiest neighborhoods from 60th Street to Battery. The plan was expected to raise $1 billion a year to fund public transportation in the New York City area. While the plan was already taking much longer than expected to implement since the federal government allowed the state to conduct an environmental review, will it survive the departure of its biggest advocate? This latest blow comes as the M.T.A. struggles to attract more riders and faces a precarious financial future despite an influx of federal pandemic aid that temporarily stabilized its operations. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Cuomo's successor, has not yet said whether she intends to support the congestion charge. (The New York Times) – Yamina Saydi, Communications Officer


GREEN TRAVEL – Tourism is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions per year, and it is estimated that GHG emissions will increase by 25% by 2030 compared to 2016. The Covid crisis seems to be the best opportunity to rethink the entire tourism sector with innovative green measures and long-term strategies. As such, the transnational online meeting of Tourism Friendly Cities, held on July 14-15, 2021, highlighted the case of Druskininkai (Lithuania), which has successfully led a green transition thanks to the long-term vision of local authorities and the impact on the local business sector. However, some questions remain: how will tourist behavior change towards nature and the environment with the return of mass tourism? How to reconcile high investments and small budgets? How to ensure good coordination between all actors in the tourism supply chain, etc.? This cooperation between all levels of governance is a good start. Can European cities learn from Druskininkai?  (Urbact) – Emilie Li, Research Assistant


ALL ELECTRIC – California has just adopted new energy codes to incentivize the reduction of carbon emissions throughout the state. With these new codes, which are reviewed every three years, California is targeting a high-emitting sector, buildings.. First, it requires all new construction to be electric-ready, which means, for example, that if a developer wants to install a gas stove, they must also install all the wiring necessary to switch to an electric or induction stove, and the same goes for heating or cooling. This also requires better ventilation for gas appliances and the resulting indoor air pollution. However, an all-electric strategy implies decarbonized and reliable power generation capable of keeping up with growing demand, a challenge that remains in most countries of the world. (Gizmodo) – Arthur Wienhold, Research Assistant


CONVERGENCE OF CRISES As the western United States faces climate change, Covid and a housing shortage, demand has surged in a county 250 miles north of the Bay Area's farthest reaches. But Humboldt is not a resort town, nor is it a hub near the Bay Area, and it lacks the infrastructure to accommodate climate refugees and telecommuters seeking new horizons.While the covid crisis may be considered as a one-time event, the number of climate refugees will only increase, and other regions, like Humboldt, will have to cope with this new demand for housing. (Bloomberg) – Yamina Saydi

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