Up from the ashes

In a piece recently posted on the Harvard Business Review's website, Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz, of a Massachusetts consulting firm named Innosight, pointed out that the greenest city on the planet is currently being constructed in an area surrounded by the world's largest supply of oil: Masdar in the Persian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Referencing the climate conference in Copenhagen, Johnson and Suskewicz noted that the conversation there was "all about policy." "But regulation won't stop global warming by itself," they argued. "Nor will simply spending money on clean technologies. In the U.S., President Obama has earmarked a half billion dollars of initial funding for a breathtaking array of renewable technologies. This looks like bold action, but it isn't nearly bold enough. We need to be thinking on a far, far grander scale. With its financial and intellectual resources, the U.S. needs to lead this change. But instead of backing individual technologies, the country should build a whole city of technologies."

Or a green city within an existing, crumbling metropolis that's leading the way in postindustrial decay. 

"Rather than build from scratch, the government could use this grand-scale opportunity to revive a declining industrial city. What if the U.S. set up a smaller version of Masdar in the Midwest, say within Detroit, with the aim of creating its own Silicon Valley of clean tech?"

One result would be the "incubation of a wide array of new technologies and business models in real-world settings."

Land grants — we have more than enough vacant property — and tax incentives would attract companies from far and wide. We have idle factories, a highly skilled workforce in desperate need of jobs, and world-class universities to partner with.

"Detroit has an awful lot of strengths to build on for something like this," Suskewicz, a senior consultant at Innosight, told us in a phone interview. "It would be a really inspiring story if we could pull something like this off and Detroit became the American industrial phoenix."

Spending $100 billion on an integrated, concentrated effort — rather than strictly relying on the current "scattershot" approach using uncoordinated projects — "would hasten what will surely be a complicated transition to an as-yet-uncertain future," Johnson and Suskewicz conclude. "It's just the sort of progress the U.S. needs to revive the rust belt, catch and surpass international competitors in the next great industrial arms race, and lead the world toward a sustainable future."

There's a quote attributed to Robert F. Kennedy that perfectly fits this moment: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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