Pencils down: Today, students across the globe are skipping school, not because of the good weather, but because of the climate: They’re going on strike. With about 2,500 protests planned in 153 countries, the Global Climate Strike aims to put pressure on governments and businesses to take action to address climate change.
The epicenter of the strike is in New York City, where the United Nations is gathering next week to revisit the goals set under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. (Vox) The city’s school district has given permission to its 1.1 million students to skip class and join the protest with an original school striker, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. (Gothamist)
Meanwhile protesters plan to march to Representative Nancy Pelosi’s local congressional office in San Francisco. (USA Today) And in Washington, D.C., students will march to Capitol Hill where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is scheduled to address the crowd. Another student strike is planned for next Friday.
That’s what one former researcher at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation found out while exploring the history of street trees. In 1870, Congress passed legislation that authorized Washington, D.C. to set aside half the width of the street for “parking on either side of the street,” but at the time, the automobile had not even been invented: They were talking about planting trees and smaller plants to create parks for pedestrians. Imagine if Washington had stuck with that streetscape. Members of Congress might have even had a different attitude about D.C. statehood. From the CityLab archive: A Brief History of Park(ing) Day.
What We’re Reading
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio drops his 2020 presidential bid (NPR)
Jeff Bezos unveils Amazon’s plan to tackle climate change (CNBC)
Today, as millions of people around the world gather to participate in the youth-led Global Climate Strike, architecture firms are talking about how they can help. According to the grassroots outreach initiative Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, more than 330 firms and individuals in architecture and design plan to participate in their local strikes.
Given that buildings account for almost 40 percent of total energy consumption in the United States, architects and designers can make a big impact in global efforts to cut carbon emissions. In fact, members of the American design and construction industry have a responsibility to contribute to the transition from fossil fuels to “a thriving zero-carbon economy,” says the group.
On Friday, millions of people around the world will walk out of workplaces & homes to join young people as they demand an end to the age of fossil fuels & climate justice for all. We proudly support our teams from around the world as they take to the streets.#ClimateStrikepic.twitter.com/ROV3TO6TCf
Young people from more than 150 countries are skipping school today as part of a series of protests led by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg, with the aim of urging world leaders to take aggressive action against climate catastrophe. Among the largest of the protests is expected to take place in New York City, where strikers will be joined by members of American Institute of Architects New York Committee on the Environment.
In the UK, firms like Stanton Williams, Grimshaw and dRMM have joined the strikes, but they’re pledging to do more than just march. Some have promised to do internal reviews of their companies’ carbon footprints, while others will be taking part in industry discussions that can identify measurable changes architects and designers can make.
“At Architects Advocate, we believe the demands of the striking youth are not only reasonable, but that they resonate with our professional interests and commitments,” says Tom Jacobs, co-founder of Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change. “That’s why we launched the #StandWithGreta campaign in support of their movement. In Chicago, we’ll be meeting at 11:30am at Federal Plaza on September 20 to participate. Other cities around the country will organize to do the same.”
“Architects please join us in standing up for the next generation by supporting the true leaders of our time. Learn more and sign a pledge to #StandWithGreta at architects-advocate.com.”
CityLab's Sarah Holder joined Rebecca Leber from Mother Jones for an exclusive series of interviews with Pete Buttigieg this week; Leber'sstory originally appeared on Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Pete Buttigieg wants Americans to understand that the climate crisis isn’t only about encroaching seas and shrinking glaciers—it affects everything and everyone in between.
“Too often, I think our imagination around climate change is confined to the North and the South Pole, but I see it happening right in the middle of America,” the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said in an interview Wednesday from his hometown in a brief break from the presidential campaign trail. The day before, Buttigieg unveiled a plantargeting natural disaster response on a campaign trip to Conway, South Carolina, which was devastated by Hurricane Florence in 2018.
When the 37-year-old Democratic presidential candidate arrived for an interview with Climate Deskand The Weather Channel at the edge of a serene section of the St. Joseph River, the changing climate was on his mind. In February 2018, the slice of land that he stood on had been completely submerged from a record mix of rain and snow; the river rose by more than 12 feet, flooding the homes that border it.
Last year’s storm surge was certainly unlike anything South Bend’s residents remember—floods of that magnitude have a one-in-500 chance of occurring in a year. But South Bend has seen two of these events—one of them a 1,000-year flood—since 2016. Heavier downpours stress old city water infrastructure and sewage systems. That’s just one way in which climate change threatens the Midwest, according to the National Climate Assessment.
It was South Bend’s recent floods that inspired Buttigieg’s climate plan. “One thing we’ve learned from recent disasters—including the place we’re sitting right now—is that there is a complex overlapping bureaucracy when it comes to getting disaster relief,” he said. “The last thing you want somebody to have to do when they’ve been put out of their homes by a disaster is have to navigate all these different agencies to get help.”
Buttigieg says he has a plan to fix that in his first 100 days in office by setting up a disaster commission that coordinates local and federal response to extreme weather events. And his climate strategy emphasizes collaboration between Washington and individual communities. The first of his climate plans, an 18-page, $2 trillion plan that endorses the Green New Deal, proposes an AmeriCorps-style volunteer Climate Corps, federally issued World-War-II-style bonds for climate change and renewable energy projects, and regional “resilience hubs” that would work together with a new clean energy bank to loan funds for new technology and infrastructure projects.
Buttigieg’s timelines and investments for hitting zero pollution in the major sectors are not quite as aggressive as his competitors’. He aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with goals along the way to double clean electricity by 2025 and clean up new cars by 2035, followed by trucks the following five years. By comparison, Bernie Sanders, who described his climate plan in an exclusive interview for the Climate Desk and Weather Channel series, has the same 2050 goal, but claims he can clean up transportation—currently the biggest source of pollution—by 2030.
Buttigieg also embraces two policies that have lost some popularity among the environmental left (and Sanders): He supports carbon capture and storage, and he plans to slap the fossil-fuel industry with a carbon tax, repaid as a dividend for taxpayers.
“For me the idea [of a carbon tax] is about making sure our prices more accurately reflect the true cost, including the cost to our own future, of things like fossil fuels,” he told CityLab’s Sarah Holder. “The beauty of the carbon tax and dividend is it does a lot of that work in terms of realigning the signals in our economy.”
Buttigieg will take the stage at MSNBC and Georgetown University’s climate town hall on Friday, while youth plan to hold school strikes around the country that day calling for swift action on the climate crisis. As the youngest candidate in the race, he’ll know in his lifetime whether the United States heeds their demands.
“Thirty years from now, this can be the dominant fact of American life,” he said. At that time, when Buttigieg will be in his 60s, some communities could already be unlivable. For evidence, he pointed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which faces extreme heat and flooding.
Climate change “could be holding back opportunities for a new generation, transforming and destroying our economy. The way I would prefer to envision climate change is as a major national challenge that we rose to as a national project, led the world in doing it, and stood taller because we did it.”
BERLIN—Right now, it’s hard to imagine what Siemensstadt will eventually look like. Surrounded by old brick factory buildings and shuttered offices, the area sits at the intersection of two large roads in a neglected northern outskirts of Berlin. Cars speed by faster than they should; every now and then, a solitary traveler emerges from the underground train station. Owned by the industrial giant that gave the suburb its name, Siemens, the 50-acre site doesn’t give off much of a sense of community.
But Berlin’s new mega-project aims to change that. Over the next decade, Siemens will spend more than €600 million to create what it’s been calling “Siemensstadt 2.0,” a “smart city” project with research facilities, space for startups, logistics centers, and a new production facility—the company’s largest worldwide—geared towards renewable energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure products. Along with its new campus, the company is also creating something of a neighborhood: Some 3,000 new apartments are on the way, plus kindergartens and schools, green spaces, and restaurants, hotels, and retailers. An abandoned railway line nearby will be revived, connecting travelers to Berlin’s new (as yet unfinished) airport in just 40 minutes.
Among those who live in and around Siemensstadt today, there’s a lot of excitement about the investment and jobs that this adaptive reuse project is promising—but there are also some mixed feelings. Recently, Google retreated from its plan to build a tech campus in another Berlin district, Kreuzberg, after a storm of community resistance. Further afield, a sensor-laden “smart city” development masterminded by Sidewalk Labs has faced similar controversy in Toronto. Thanks to the dramatic changes that technology giants in California have wrought in their nearby communities, there’s no lack of comparisons that raise concern about what Siemens’s gigantic redevelopment may mean for Berlin.
The company’s history in the northeastern Berlin suburb named after it goes back more than 120 years. Much of the site slated for redevelopment has been owned by Siemens since 1897. During the first half of the 20th century, the company built housing and other community facilities for the workers once employed here. Connected to the rest of Berlin via a 4.5-kilometer railway that Siemens built, Siemensstadt peaked at 90,000 staff working and often living nearby in the years before World War II.
With Berlin split in two after the war and surrounded by Soviet-dominated East Germany, Siemens gradually relocated, eventually establishing a new headquarters in Munich and selling off subsidiaries. As the economy has deindustrialized, the site has shrunk, buildings have become outdated, jobs disappeared, and the surrounding neighborhood has grown poorer.
Around 11,400 staff still work here, making, among other things, steam turbines, substation equipment, and huge dynamos. But over the past few years, the company has instituted several rounds of layoffs. Siemensstadt is not the poorest suburb in Berlin, but recent reports by city authorities describe the area’s social situation as “continuously worsening.” Most of its 13,000 inhabitants no longer work in the Siemens factory and offices.
“The old people start talking about the good old days, when Siemens was in charge: kindergartens, schools, jobs, clubs and apartments—everything was Siemens,” Lutz Oberländer, a neighborhood historian who has published a book on the district, said in an interview with Tagesspiegel, a local newspaper. Even when he moved here in 1999, almost everyone still worked for the company. “Now there’s a new generation of families here, and hardly anybody works for Siemens.”
In late 2018, Siemens and an eager Berlin city government signed a statement of intent. The city agreed to spend half a million euros on updating surrounding infrastructure and this summer, Siemens asked 15 architecture firms to come up with ideas for the new neighborhood’s layout. Construction could start as early as late 2021. “There’s a fence here now,” Yashar Azad, a Siemens spokesperson, told CityLab on a recent tour of the site. “But that will be gone eventually. There’s a lot of unused space here and we want to open everything up.”
Some locals are cautiously enthusiastic about the opportunity the project could represent for the struggling area. Klaus Abel is the head of the local branch of Germany’s biggest union, IG Metall, which represents many of Siemens’ current metalworking employees. In a statement, he welcomed the project, saying it would bring jobs—but Abel also added that it was important for “Siemens to take their staff with them into this new world of work and train them.”
Other residents have expressed a familiar set of concerns about traffic and construction noise, a district politician, Daniel Buchholz, told a local newspaper. The threat of gentrification also looms large as highly paid tech workers move in. “The rents will go up,” one local told a reporter.
District leaders have commissioned a study to see whether Siemensstadt and another nearby district, Charlottenburg North, should be subject to special Berlin zoning laws created to protect neighborhood character and prevent gentrification. Berlin city councilors have recently been arguing about capping rents for the next five years and there are strict rules on rent controls and historic buildings as well as regulations designed to safeguard unique community characteristics.
Compounding both the concern and the enthusiasm is the nearby Tegel airport project. Once this airport is decommissioned in favor of Berlin’s new, long delayed Brandenburg airport, it too is slated to become something of an IT hub. Tegel’s “Urban Tech Republic” development and Siemensstadt 2.0 are only around six kilometers apart and will form a corridor in Berlin’s north west. City planners estimate 20,000 jobs will be created between the two projects, as well as housing for 25,000.
Such tech-driven development projects in the U.S. have faced fierce criticism for alienating locals rather than benefiting them. In New York City, Amazon ended up withdrawing its plans for a second headquarters due to anti-tech backlash; all around the Bay Area, the unbridled growth of the industry has contributed to a dire housing shortage. Azad stresses that Siemensstadt 2.0 will be different. “We are placing a lot of emphasis on regular dialogue and we are reaching out to church groups, sport clubs and schools,” he said. “We are also planning to include locals in the architectural competition, where they can express their wishes and concerns to the jury [deciding on the winners].”
Siemens is determined to be a good neighbor in Berlin, says Cedrik Nieke, a Siemens board member who is helping lead the project. In San Francisco, the tech boom “pushed normal society right out,” he says. “We have to ensure that that doesn’t happen here.” The name of the development is also something that the local community will decide together, and 30 percent of the apartments Siemens is building will be reserved for low-income tenants. He’ll be personally invested in the prosperity of the area: Nieke said that he would like to move there eventually, too.
It’s early in the process, but some locals are not fully convinced that the company will live up to its promises. “Only time will tell whether Siemens really is interested in cooperating. Up until now, that’s not the impression we have had,” said Helin Evrim Sommer, a member of the federal parliament for Spandau and a spokesperson on urban development for the Left party. A group of concerned citizens established a planning workshop in March and it has been meeting regularly at her office since then. But so far, she points out, “there’s only been one public information evening organized by Siemens.”
If the company really wants to open up the site, they need to integrate into the community, not just expect the community to integrate with them, she stresses. A local blogger, Rebekka Kurpiers-Stahl, has echoed those concerns about transparency and inclusion in her well-read community newsletter.
But even critics of Siemens don’t expect a rerun of Berlin’s Google campus controversy of 2018. That conflict arose when the U.S. data giant wanted to open a startup center in the Kreuzberg neighborhood; after months of protests, Google backed out. While there are some parallels between the two projects, there are also key differences. Kreuzberg, a thriving and increasingly trendy neighborhood near the center of the city, doesn’t need much help attracting residents. Siemensstadt is almost the opposite.
“Firstly, I think Siemens is smarter than that,” a local politician, Hans-Ulrich Riedel, told local broadcasters. “Secondly, a lot of local people have a lot of hope for this project.”
One issue that could have an impact is Germany’s stringent personal data and privacy law: the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. That will determine what information a so-called smart city can collect about residents. Siemens’ project head, Karina Rigby, has described what she calls “laboratories in reality” as being “at the heart of Siemensstadt 2.0.” Said Azad: “This will be a huge showroom for our technology.”
Does that mean the residents will be Siemens’ lab rats? The project is at such an early stage that it’s impossible to know yet, but he stressed that the company has no plans to harvest data from private individuals. “That is not part of Siemens’ business,” he said. Rather, it intends to merely showcase and test its infrastructure capabilities.
That explanation is a little too simplistic, according to Maximilian von Grafenstein, a co-leader of a research program at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society that, among other things, researches data privacy in smart cities. The GDPR has extremely broad definitions of who is responsible for processing individuals’ data. It would be nearly impossible for Siemens to “only” provide infrastructure and keep completely out of processing data, von Grafenstein said.
But he believes that Siemens has good intentions in the privacy arena. Not only will they have to abide by the GDPR, but they are also well aware of local sensitivities around data privacy as well as a culture that’s keen on following the rules
“I would say [potential inhabitants] don’t have to be wary, they just need to be aware,” he told CityLab. “I would be really surprised if Siemens wasn’t savvy enough to ensure that it was GDPR compliant.”
In fact, von Grafenstein points out that GDPR-compliancy be a competitive advantage. If consumers know a company boasts a reputation for rigorous data privacy, they could prefer that company over competitors. “It’s not unlikely that Siemens see their smart city as a lighthouse project for data protection,” he said
To achieve that, von Grafenstein thinks that Siemens needs to start work on this aspect as early as possible. “So many different stakeholders have to cooperate to build something like this up in a GDPR-sustainable way. It’s very complex,” he said. Companies can’t build up those systems of governance in retrospect; they must be designed in at the very start of the project, he argued.
That call for Siemens to engage with outside stakeholders, including residents, as it develops its plans was echoed by Cordelia Polinna, a specialist in strategic urban planning and managing partner at Urban Catalyst, a Berlin studio specializing in cooperative city spaces. That means going beyond just reaching out to a few community groups, she said. “Siemens needs to find as many synergies as possible with the local community early on, to ensure they don’t create an enclave,” she said. “They should be approaching the community as equals—the neighbors will have a lot of local knowledge and that can be very helpful.”
Will Siemensstadt 2.0 be a good or bad neighbor? When it comes to privacy, economic inclusion, or access to jobs, the most important thing is that the company learn from the mistakes that other tech titans have made when they venture into smart-city-building.
“It depends on what Siemens is actually planning,” said the Left’s Sommer. “Their plans must clearly show that this isn’t just going to result in more gentrification, new versions of private transportation, and more surveillance.”