12 March 2010

Robin Hood Tax - Be Part of the World's Greatest Bank Job!

...effective rebranding of the long-proposed, but uninspiringly monikered Tobin Tax, using an existing cultural reference, Robin Hood. In a nutshell, the idea of the Tobin Tax is to apply a tiny tax on certain financial transations ie. it would harvest a small amount of money sloshing around the world in the casino of the global economy and invest it back into people and planet [from which the wealth was derived].

Update from Oxfam's Robin Hood Tax campaign website

'A 10-metre high projection on the Bank of England kick-started the campaign. But it really began in earnest when Richard Curtis and Bill Nighy appeared on breakfast TV to show support and promote their video.

Out and about from Sherwood Forest

Merry folk have been sounding horns loudly around the country and on the web, making sure that everyone hears about the Robin Hood Tax.

We now have 130,000 Facebook fans and 64,000 people have voted in favour of the tax on our website. 32,000 of you have signed up for e-mail updates and we have almost 3,000 followers on Twitter. The only small number so far is the 0.05% we think banks should contribute to make the world a better place.

With events in Cardiff, and video letters sent from campaigners in David Cameron’s constituency, Witney, and Gordon Brown’s home turf Kirkcaldy, our supporters have been busy making merry. In the US Jonathan Mann made this brilliant music video about the tax.

Since launch, the media has been buzzing with news of goings-on in Sherwood. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and 350 other economists publicly supported our campaign. The campaign has already launched in Germany. France, Australia and the US are bracing themselves to be invaded by the (wo)men in tights.

Robin rides into Parliament

Thousands of people emailed their MPs and inspired an unprecedented number to attend a special briefing event at the House of Commons.

So far, nearly 1 in 5 Members of Parliament has expressed support for the tax. Welsh secretary Peter Hain was the first Cabinet Minister to lend public support. Conservative parliamentary candidate René Kinzett also showed support for Robin, as well as Labour MPs Jamie Reed and Andy Reed and Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas.We need support in Westminster for the Robin Hood tax to happen, so ask your MP to sign up to support it.
Mites in your tights? Itching to do more?

Go for it! If you have:

1 Minute: Spread the word about the Robin Hood Tax - forward this email to your friends.

5 minutes: Ask your MP to support the Robin Hood Tax by signing the early day motion in Parliament.

A bit more time: Watch our event from the Royal Society of Arts. On 9th March Economist Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Curtis and a discussion panel talked about the tax and took questions from the floor and via the Internet. The whole event can be seen on the The RSA website

For other events around the country visit our Facebook page.

Thanks for all you're doing from Robin and the team.


A tiny tax of 0.05% from international bankers' transactions could generate hundreds of billions of pounds every year to stop cuts in crucial public services in the UK and help fight global poverty and climate change. And it shouldn't cost the public a penny.

Turning a crisis for the banks into an opportunity for the world

The New Politics of Time

new economics foundation = good dot joiners!

Event being held in the UK 23 March 2010, from nef website

'A new report from nef (the new economics foundation), 21 hours, proposes that a ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.

The report will be discussed at this special parliamentary event, organised by the New Political Economy Network, nef (the new economics foundation) and Compass, in association with The Guardian, Renewal and Soundings.

Speakers include:Andrew Simms, Policy Director, nefHeather Wakefield, National Secretary for Local Government, UnisonKatherine Rake, Chief Executive, Family and Parenting Institute

Chaired by David Lammy MP, Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills'

Arctic Seed Vault Sets Record, Over 500,000 Samples

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, 12 March 2010

'A "doomsday" vault storing crop seeds in an Arctic deep freeze is surpassing 500,000 samples to become the most diverse collection of food seeds in history, managers said on Thursday.

Set up on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard two years ago, the vault aims to store seeds of all food crops deep beneath permafrost to withstand threats ranging from a cataclysmic nuclear war to a mundane power cut.

"New seeds...are taking us over the milestone of half a million samples," Cary Fowler, head of the Global Crop Diversity Trust which runs the vault with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center in Sweden, told Reuters.

A statement said thousands of new arrivals this week made the vault "the most diverse assemblage of crop diversity ever amassed anywhere in the world." It overtakes the diversity in a US national gene bank in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Among arrivals were a bean from South America that may have strong resistance to diseases, a strawberry from Russia's remote Kuril Islands in the Pacific and samples of soybeans from the United States.

Only about 150 crops are grown widely around the world but all come in a wide range of varieties - potatoes, for instance, come in an array of sizes and colors.

The $10 million facility opened in 2008 with 268,000 varieties of seeds from more than 100 countries.

The three vault rooms will be able to house 4.5 million samples, or 2 billion seeds since samples usually comprise many seeds, such as of rice, maize, wheat, cowpea or barley.

Blasted out of icy rock 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, the air-locked vaults would stay frozen for 200 years even in the worst-case scenario of global warming and if mechanical refrigeration were to fail, designers say.

Fowler said the vault was becoming more important after a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in December failed to agree a binding treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the collection could help in work to develop new crops that may contain traits able to withstand rising temperatures, floods or droughts that may be caused by rising temperatures in the 21st century.'

Good Foundations - Being Well Through Building Well

Reposted in full from the nef newsletter, March 2010

'The Centre for Well-being at nef recently launched the findings of its Building Well-being project at the Building Centre, London, to an audience of planners, architects, engineers and developers.

Funded by the Happold Trust, the research focuses on how we can incorporate a broader definition of value that properly takes into account the drivers of people’s well-being into the way we plan, design and develop our neighbourhoods.

A new report, Good Foundations, proposes that our measure of success should be neighbourhoods that promote two key outcomes:
  • place Happiness: the personal, social and economic well-being of inhabitants
  • place Sustainability: which arises from minimising the environmental impact throughout both the construction process and lifetime of a building or place.
The aim of Good Foundations is to stimulate the beginnings of a cultural shift in the built environment sector. Recognition in the sector of the interdependence of well-being and sustainability is critical, not least because the built environment influences all of us when it comes to the choices and decisions we make on a day-to-day basis.

From nef website:

'This report offers new insights into the connection between people’s well-being – how people experience their lives – and the built environment which surrounds them, and to consider how better account could be given to these linkages through policy development and professional practice. More particularly, it considers why a focus on what ought to be shared outcomes – creating places and spaces where people can enjoy a good life now and in the future – is often abandoned in the face of pursuing short-term financial returns on investment.

This report is targeted at those involved in the day-to-day creation of urban neighbourhoods and places – master planners, designers, developers, architects, engineers – as well as at local authorities and their partners who play a strategic leadership role with regard to setting the vision and frameworks which guide local action. Our approach has been to use research findings exploring the links between the built environment, regeneration and renewal activity, and people’s well-being, to inform practical suggestions for approaching development projects in a different way. The aim has not been to provide definitive solutions, but to stimulate new thinking and open up debate.'

11 March 2010

2010 International E-waste Design Competition - $US 20,000 Prizemoney

Electronic Waste, or “E-Waste,” generated by computers, TVs, cameras, printers, and cell phones, is a growing global issue. Through the International E-Waste Design Competition, participants will explore solutions to this problem at the local level and beyond.

The spirit of this competition is to prompt the industrialized world to dialogue about product designs for environmentally responsible green computing and entertainment.

The goals of this competition are to learn about ways to re-use E-Waste for new and productive means, explore your own ideas for how to address E-Waste problems and contribute to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design for current and future computing technology products.

We invite you to create a broad range of design concepts and innovations for technology products that demonstrate fresh approaches and responsible solutions for green computing technologies. Engineering, design, sustainability, or business knowledge will be helpful but not required for success in this competition.'

09 March 2010

The Great Turning - David Korten

'To have the democracy we thought we had, we must take democracy to where it has never been'.

Sustainability: David Korten articulates the whole thing - not part of it, all of it, including all the not-so-easy topics to raise.

And ESPECIALLY 'The Story' about two thirds of the way through, which Korten identifies as the biggest barrier to change.

Listen to the audio recording of talk given at Dunstan Foundation Lecture, University of Adelaide, 15 July 2008

'Dr David C Korten is the author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His Previous Books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World; and the Post-Coroporate World: Life after Capitalism.

Korten is co-founder and board chair of the Positive Futures Network, which publishes YES! A Journal of Positive Futures; founder and president of the People-Centered Development Forum; a founding associate of the International Forum on Globalization; a board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE); and a member of the Social Ventures Network, and the Club of Rome.

He holds MBA and PhD degrees from Standford Business School, has thirty years experience as a development professional in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and has serviced as a Harvard Business School professor, a captain in the US Air Force, a Ford Foundation Project Specialist, and a regional adviser to the US Agency for International Development.'

Following Questions - note his comparison to the power of conversation and the challenging of the story in kickstarting feminism

Horizon: 2009-2010: How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

BBC 2 Series, Parts 1-6

When Goods Get Traded, Who Pays For The CO2?

'... which country is responsible for the carbon emitted in global trade? The buyer or the seller?'

Indeed - who is buying all of China's products?

This is why Ecological Footprint is important, it corrects for trade!

Living Planet Report 2008, see p29

Reposted in full from TIME, 9 March 2010

'Popularly, China is a villain in climate change. Many people who attended last year's chaotic UN climate-change talks in Copenhagen — especially those who belonged to the US delegation — singled out China as the main reason the summit nearly collapsed. Chinese diplomats fought hard against any form of emissions regulation, even though their country is now the world's No. 1 national carbon emitter, and will emit far more carbon in the future than any other. In Washington, opponents of carbon cap-and-trade also point to China, which is unlikely to take on a carbon cap of its own, and wonder why the US should have to restrain its emissions. (See pictures of Beijing trying to improve its air quality.)

But a new study published in the March 8 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that the carbon equation isn't as straightforward as we might think.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Washington at Stanford University synthesized carbon emissions and trade patterns and found that more than one-third of CO2 emissions related to the consumption of goods and services in developed countries are actually emitted outside their national borders. Rich nations are essentially outsourcing some of their carbon emissions to developing nations through global trade — by importing goods and services from abroad — thereby shrinking their carbon footprints while inflating those of major exporting nations like China. "It's surprising just how much this effect is driven by the US and China," says Steven Davis, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution and the lead author of the PNAS paper. "It is significant." (See the top 10 green ideas of 2009.)

How significant? Davis and his co-author Ken Caldeira estimate that 23% of global CO2 emissions — about 6.2 billion metric tons — are traded internationally, usually going from carbon-intensive developing nations like China to the comparatively less carbon intensive West. In a few rich nations, such as France, Sweden and Britain, more than 30% of consumption-based emissions could be traced to origins abroad; if those emissions were tallied on the other side of the balance sheet, it would add more than four tons of CO2 per person in several European nations.

The effect in the US is less extreme because the country exports more than Western Europe and because the US economy has a higher carbon intensity — but it made a difference. Imports accounted for 10.8% of US carbon emissions, enough to add an additional 2.4 metric tons of CO2 per person. China, of course, fell into the opposite camp: 22.5% of the carbon emitted in China is actually exported to other countries, reducing its per capita carbon footprint from 3.9 tons to 3 tons. (See pictures of the world's most polluted places.)

Climate-change critics like Republican Senator James Inhofe may rail against China, but the PNAS paper shows that while Beijing may be leading the world in carbon emissions, that output is in large part due to the fact that it is using energy to make clothes, cars and toys for the rest of us. It also demonstrates that Europe — whose per capita carbon footprint is less than half that of the US — essentially imports some of its green virtue from abroad by outsourcing its carbon emissions. "It does shrink the gap somewhat between the US and Europe," says Davis.

But the real implications of the new paper could come in international climate policy. The UN system is built around the idea of capping carbon emissions from individual nations. But which country is responsible for the carbon emitted in global trade? The buyer or the seller? The study demonstrates that carbon leakage — emissions moving from relatively green countries like France or Germany to more carbon-intensive ones like Russia or China — is already occurring.

The question is whether the leakage will accelerate if, for instance, developed nations institute tough carbon caps and drive out carbon-intensive industries, which will set up in uncapped developing nations — as cap-and-trade opponents allege. Or has any leakage that will occur already occurred? If industry hasn't already been outsourced from developed nations due to their higher labor costs and other disadvantages, a carbon cap may not make a difference. "The study definitely cuts both ways," says Davis. (See TIME's special report on the environment.)

What's clear is that for all the blame being put on major developing countries for failing to take on carbon regulations, climate change is still chiefly the responsibility of rich nations. We emitted most of the man-made CO2 currently warming the planet, and even today, thanks to trade, we are still responsible for the majority of new carbon emissions.

As Davis and Caldeira write, "Consumption-based accounting of emissions provides grounding for ethical arguments that the most developed countries — as the primary beneficiaries of emissions and with greater ability to pay — should lead the global mitigation effort." That's hard to argue with.'

The Well-Travelled Taco - 19 Ingredients That Logged 64,000 Miles

[click image to enlarge]

Fascinating project which mapped the 'tacoshed'...perhaps a frequent flyer scheme should be set up for fast food!?

Reposted in full from GreenBiz, 3 March 2010

'The local food movement is nothing new, of course, and in fact is growing in leaps and bounds in recent months, as evidenced by "local food" announcements from major players including Frito-Lay, Safeway and, yes, Walmart.

These announcements, and many others like them, tend to focus on the raw materials of food - the fruits and vegetables you get in the produce aisles or at the farmer's market.But a new project at the California College of the Arts takes a much more holistic view of local food, tracking the miles traveled by every ingredient in that humble but utterly delicious meal, the taco.

Over at Good Magazine's website, Twilight Greenaway writes:

"Look closely enough at anything and you can start to see the sum of its parts. Even, for instance, a single taco, which, when examined recently by a group of architecture students, became a window into the complexities of globalization. The assignment was part of URBANlab, a program of The California College of the Arts that took place under the guidance of landscape architect David Fletcher and members of the art and design studio Rebar.

The goal was to map the local "tacoshed," which, much like a watershed, establishes the geographical boundaries of a taco's origins—the source of everything from the corn in the tortilla to the tomatoes in the salsa.

By thoroughly understanding what it takes to make a taco, the class hoped to become "better able to propose and design a speculative model of a holistic and sustainable urban future." The final product is a surprisingly useful microcosm of the industrial food system and its "richly complex network of systems, flows, and ecologies." According to the class findings, within a single taco, the ingredients had traveled a total of 64,000 miles, or just over two and a half times the circumference of the earth."

The tacoshed project found some surprising results, and some less surprising. The taco, chosen for being "the absolute most economical option possible," contained some truly local ingredients, including the salt and the cheese. Other ingredients had longer legs, including avocados from Chile and rice from Thailand.'

Arctic Melt To Cost Up To $24 Trillion By 2050

...glug, glug, glug!

Sound of the economy going down the gurgler big time if we don't start getting serious about this!

Reposted in full from Planet Ark, 5 March 2010

'Arctic ice melting could cost global agriculture, real estate and insurance anywhere from $2.4 trillion to $24 trillion by 2050 in damage from rising sea levels, floods and heat waves, according to a report released on Friday.

"Everybody around the world is going to bear these costs," said Eban Goodstein, a resource economist at Bard College in New York state who co-authored the report, called "Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away."

He said the report, reviewed by more than a dozen scientists and economists and funded by the Pew Environment Group, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, provides a first attempt to monetize the cost of the loss of one of the world's great weather makers.

"The Arctic is the planet's air conditioner and it's starting to break down," he said.
The loss of Arctic Sea ice and snow cover is already costing the world about $61 billion to $371 billion annually from costs associated with heat waves, flooding and other factors, the report said.

The losses could grow as a warmer Arctic unlocks vast stores of methane in the permafrost. The gas has about 21 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Melting of Arctic sea ice is already triggering a feedback of more warming as dark water revealed by the receding ice absorbs more of the sun's energy, he said. That could lead to more melting of glaciers on land and raise global sea levels.

While much of Europe and the United States has suffered heavy snowstorms and unusually low temperatures this winter, evidence has built that the Arctic is at risk from warming.
Greenhouse gases generated by tailpipes and smokestacks have pushed Arctic temperatures in the last decade to the highest levels in at least 2,000 years, reversing a natural cooling trend, an international team of researchers reported in the journal Science in September.

Arctic emissions of methane have jumped 30 percent in recent years, scientists said last month.
Thin ice over the Arctic Sea this winter could mean a powerful ice-melt next summer, a top U.S. climate scientist said this week.

And early findings from a major research project in Canada involving more than 370 scientists from 27 countries showed on Friday that climate change is transforming the Arctic environment faster than expected and accelerating the disappearance of sea ice.

Goodstein's study did not look at worst-case scenarios Arctic melting could have, such as warmer temperatures that trigger massive releases of crystallized methane formations in Arctic soils and ocean beds known as methane hydrates. It also did not look at sea ice erosion troubling people in the Arctic.'

Old-Growth Logging Will Lock in Community Conflict, Financial Losses and Environmental Damage

...meanwhile in our own backyard...
Natural assets are the basis of all value chains, including the economic ones that flow from them - time to get into the 21st century!

Reposted in full from EcoVoice, March 2010
'An advertising campaign and report launched by forest industry representative group FIAT shows that the Tasmanian logging industry is behind the times and out-of-touch with the realities of the marketplace, according to the Wilderness Society.

"The native forest logging industry is in crisis with logging contractors wanting out, Gunns in a profit free-fall and overseas customers rejecting our woodchips, yet the industry continues to bulldoze ahead with this kind of destructive logging," said Vica Bayley, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society.

Markets, international certification schemes and the community have moved on and no longer accept products that come from the destruction of high-conservation value native forests, including old-growth forests, and this report and advertising campaign does nothing to bring the industry into the twenty-first century.

"Politicians have for too long supported a native-forest logging industry which is a lose-lose outcome for Tasmania. We are losing our forests, our clean clever brand, and timber industry jobs - and it's costing the state millions of dollars.

"This campaign is being run by FIAT, a group with vested interests in old-growth logging, and seeks to lock in political support for an outdated industry which is desperately in need of restructure.

"The Wilderness Society supports the logging of some native forests for high-value low-volume specialty and craft timbers. However, a urgent restructure is needed to protect Tasmania's ancient forests and move industrial timber production into the extensive plantation estate.

"FIAT claims that conservationists want to see all native-forest logging ended, but we recognise that logging for high-value craft timber is crucial for a vibrant Tasmanian economy.

We don't, however, believe the continued destruction of native forests for low-value uses such as woodchips has a place in twenty-first century Tasmania.

"FIAT needs to get with the times and embrace the wave of change pushing the industry in the direction of reform. FIAT and the old-style politicians need to stop working against market and community forces and work towards positive outcomes for the community, industry and environment," said Mr Bayley.'

Majority of Australians Say Government Responsible for Stopping Illegal Logging Imports

Reposted in full from EcoVoice, March 2010

'An overwhelming majority (92%) of Australians think the government has a responsibility to ensure illegal timber is not sold in this country, according to a recent Newspoll survey commissioned by Greenpeace with the support of leading timber retailer Bunnings.

The nationally representative survey also revealed that:

* an overwhelming majority would be willing to pay more for imported timber products if they have been sourced from a legally certified provider.

* only 6% currently find it easy to determine the difference between legal and illegal timber.

These results follow last week's release of a government-commissioned report that recommended against a ban on illegal timber imports in Australia, something they promised to implement as part of their election platform in 2007.

"This poll should leave the government with no doubt as to what needs to be done,' says Greenpeace Forests Campaigner Reece Turner. "It is disturbing that voluntary measures are being considered to address this issue, given the broad support from major players within the timber industry and from leading environment groups for the promised ban."

The government needs to listen to the concerns of consumers, support industry leaders, and help protect the world's forests by ensuring that illegal timber does not enter this country. Leading retailers and importers have demonstrated foresight by investing in legal certification of the timber products they trade in.

"Bunnings is supportive of the government introducing effective measures to prevent illegal timber imports. We've worked very earnestly for the past decade in an ongoing effort to eliminate illegally logged timber from our supply chain and offer our customers sustainable solutions," Bunnings Managing Director, John Gillam said.

Australia imports $840 million worth of illegally logged timber each year and the rate of illegal logging in our region is among the highest in the world. This means Australian consumers are unwittingly buying timber products that come from illegal logging operations in neighbouring countries like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Illegal logging is linked to human rights abuse, irreversible biodiversity loss and devastating deforestation. Deforestation is responsible for about a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
When people go to the store to buy timber, they should have the confidence that any products they purchase have not come from illegal logging.

Tell the government to stay strong on illegal logging imports, listen to Australians and support the timber industry. Write a letter and Say No to Bad Wood.'

07 March 2010

Can We Design Cities for Happiness?

Reposted in full from Shareable, 3 March 2010

'Happiness itself is a commons to which everyone should have equal access.

That’s the view of Enrique Peñalosa, who is not a starry-eyed idealist given to abstract theorizing. He’s actually a politician, who served as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, for three years, and now travels the world spreading a message about how to improve quality-of-life for everyone living in today’s cities.

Peñalosa’s ideas stand as a beacon of hope for cities of the developing world, which even with their poverty and immense problems will absorb much of the world’s population growth over the next half-century. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, Peñalosa believes it’s a mistake to give up on these cities as good places to live.

“If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time,” declares Peñalosa. “So with our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success. This might mean that all kids have access to sports facilities, libraries, parks, schools, nurseries.”

Peñalosa uses phrases like “quality of life” or “social justice” rather than “commons-based society” to describe his agenda of offering poor people first-rate government services and pleasant public places, yet it is hard to think of anyone who has done more to reinvigorate the commons in his or her own community.

Transforming Bogotá

In three years (1998-2001) as mayor of Colombia’s capital city of 7 million, Peñalosa’s Administration accomplished the following:

  • Led a team that created the TransMilenio, a bus rapid transit system (BRT), which now carries a half-million passengers daily on special bus lanes that offer most of the advantages of a subway at a fraction of the cost.
  • Built 52 new schools, refurbished 150 others and increased student enrollment by 34 percent.
  • Established or improved 1200 parks and playgrounds throughout the city.
  • Built three central and 10 neighborhood libraries.
  • Built 100 nurseries for children under five.
  • Improved life in the slums by providing water service to 100 percent of Bogotá households.
  • Bought undeveloped land on the outskirts of the city to prevent real estate speculation and ensured that it will be developed as affordable housing with electrical, sewage, and telephone service as well as space reserved for parks, schools, and greenways.
  • Established 300 kilometers of separated bikeways, the largest network in the developing world.
  • Created the world’s longest pedestrian street, 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) crossing much of the city as well as a 45- kilometer (28 miles) greenway along a path that had been originally slated for an eight-lane highway.
  • Reduced traffic by almost 40 percent by implementing a system where motorists must leave cars at home during rush hour two days a week. He also raised parking fees and local gas taxes, with half of the proceeds going to fund the new bus transit system.
  • Inaugurated an annual car-free day, where everyone from CEOs to janitors commuted to work in some way other than a private automobile.
  • Planted 100,000 trees.

Quality of Life = Common Wealth

All together, these accomplishments boosted the common good in a city characterized by vast disparities of wealth. Peñalosa is passionate in articulating a vision that a city belongs to all its citizens.

David Burwell—a strategic analyst with Project for Public Spaces who has long experience working on environmental, transportation, and community issues—calls Peñalosa, “One of the great public servants of our time. He views cities as being planned for a purpose—to create human well-being. He’s got a great sense of what a leader should do—to promote human happiness.”

Bogota is now held up as an international model for sustainable innovation, even for cities in the developing world. Peñalosa of course, didn’t do this alone. Antanas Mockus, who both preceded and succeeded him as mayor, and Gil Peñalosa, Enrique’s brother, who served as parks commissioner under Mockus, are among the many who deserve credit. Bogota mayors are limited to one consecutive three-year term. Peñalosa ran again for mayor in 2008, losing according to some observers because a leftist opponent also embraced a commons-style agenda, including the promise of a new subway system.

Enrique Peñalosa has become an international star of sorts among green urban designers, so I assumed he was trained as a city planner and inspired by long involvement in the environmental movement. But the truth is that he arrived at these ideas from a completely different direction. “My focus has always been social—how you can help the most people for the greater public good.”

Growing up in the 1960s, when revolutionary fervor swept South America, Peñalosa became an ardent socialist at a young age, advocating income redistribution as the solution to social ills. He studied economics and history at Duke University in the United States, which he attended on a soccer scholarship, and later moved to Paris to earn a doctoral degree in management and public administration. Paris was a marvelous education in the possibilities of urban living, and he returned home with aspirations of bringing European-style city comforts to the working class of Bogotá. Several years working as a business manager moderated his ideological views but not, he hastens to tell me, his quest for social justice.

Thinking about Equality in New Ways

“We live in the post-communism period, in which many have assumed equality as a social goal is obsolete,” he explains. “Although income equality as a concept does not jibe with market economy, we can seek to achieve quality-of-life equality.”

Quality of life is not just a phrase to Peñalosa. He is firmly dedicated to giving everyone in a city more opportunity for recreation, education, transportation and the chance to take pleasure in their surroundings. That explains his emphasis on parks, mass transit, childcare facilities, bikeways, schools, libraries and other forms of the commons that enhance people’s lives. And that focus on serving the disadvantaged extends to public space—which he explains is where poor people who do not have backyards, vacation homes and private clubs tend to hang out.

Peñalosa is proud of how his administration tamed the automobile in Bogota in order to meet the needs of those who do not own cars. Nearly all cities around the globe accommodate motorists at the expense of everyone else, turning the streets—a commons that once was used by everyone, including pedestrians and kids at play—into the exclusive domain of motorists. In the developing world, where only a select portion of people own motor vehicles, this is particularly unfair and detrimental to a sense of community.

The streets were reclaimed for people through policies that used both carrots and sticks. As expected, the sticks—driving bans during rush hour and enforcement of long-ignored laws prohibiting cars on the sidewalks—drew howls of outrage from a small but powerful group of people, who had always treated sidewalks as their own personal parking lot.

“I was almost impeached by the car-owning upper classes,” Peñalosa recalls, “but it was popular with everyone else.”

However, the carrots were embraced by almost everyone. The pedestrian streets, greenways and bike trails he created are well used on weekdays by commuters and on evenings and weekends by recreational bikers and walkers out enjoying the Latin custom of a paseo—an evening stroll.

Streets for People, Not Just Cars

Another hit is the Ciclovía, in which as many as 2 million people (30 percent of the city’s population) take over 120 kilometers of major streets between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Sunday, for bike rides, strolls and public events. This weekly event began in 1976 but was expanded by Peñalosa. It now has spread to numerous Colombian cities as well as San Francisco; Quito, Ecuador; El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and is being explored for Chicago, New York, Portland and Melbourne, Australia.

Peñalosa’s proudest achievement is TransMilenio, the bus rapid transit (BRT) system that enables buses to zoom on special lanes that make mass transit faster and more convenient than driving. There are now eight TransMilenio routes criss-crossing Bogotá. The BRT idea was pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil, in the 1970s but Bogotá’s success shows it can work in a larger city.

Oscar Edmundo Diaz, senior program director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), who was Peñalosa’s chief mayoral aide, proudly notes that even wealthy people who own cars are now enthusiastic users of the BRT. “You don’t want to build a transit system just for the poor,” he counsels. “Otherwise it will be stigmatized, and even poor people will look down on it. If everyone uses it, it will help the poor more.”

Wowed by the success of TransMilenio, six other Colombian cities are developing their own systems. Peñalosa and Diaz have been very influential in spreading the idea throughout the world. In 2004, Jakarta, Indonesia, inaugurated TransJakarta, a Bogotá-inspired BRT system that now features six lines with three more under construction. Dozens of other cities around the globe have BRT projects under construction or up-and-running, including Hong Kong; Mexico City, Mexico; Johannesburg, South Africa; Taipei, Taiwan; Quito, Ecuador; and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. The idea is now spreading to cities in developed countries including, Sydney, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and even the city known for decades as the world center of automotive glory, Los Angeles.

It’s not that Peñalosa hates cars. It’s that he loves lively places where people of all backgrounds gather to enjoy themselves—public commons that barely exist in cities where cars rule the streets. These sorts of places are even more important in poor cities than in wealthy ones, he says, because poor people have nowhere else to go.

Urban Sustainability Goes Global

Peñalosa has been taking this message throughout the world in lecture tours sponsored by the World Bank and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a New York-based group promoting sustainable transportation in the developing world.

“You cannot overestimate the impact Peñalosa has had, on a personal level, in 10 or 12 countries,” notes Walter Hook, director of ITDP. “He takes these ideas, which can be rather dry, and speaks emotionally about the ways they affect people’s lives. He has the ability to change how people think about cities. He’s a revolution that way.”

“Economics, urban planning, ecology are only the means. Happiness is the goal,” Peñalosa says, summing up his work. “We have a word in Spanish, ganas, which means a burning desire. I have ganas about public life.”

“The least a democratic society should do,” he continues, “is to offer people wonderful public spaces. Public spaces are not a frivolity. They are just as important as hospitals and schools. They create a sense of belonging. This creates a different type of society—a society where people of all income levels meet in public space is a more integrated, socially healthier one.”'