Transitioning to “Cantilevered Sustainability”

March 11, 2012 at 7:16 am 15 comments

My posts to the Sustainability Puzzle have focused on presenting a basic outline of how to re-organize ourselves sustainably. Now that we have a working design, how can we actually transition society into a cantilevered system of sustainability?  Well, I think there is no silver bullet, but a great deal of the legwork can be accomplished through the tried and true carrot and stick approach of tax policy.  Let me share my general thoughts with you.

One of the goals of a cantilevered system of sustainability is to cluster resources and communities around them.  It aims to densify cities and dramatically improve their sustainability.  These resource intense cities would be cantilevered by sustainable communities networked by smart rail systems in the space between cities.  Because these communities are sustainable and provide their own services, they would not require government services and would be tax free (see The Grand Bargain).

In order to prepare for the new built environment, one change I would propose is to reformulate property tax assessments to include the actual cost of services to a property as well as an “unsustainablity” assessment.  Properties that are less eco-friendly will be taxed at a higher rate than those that are resource-neutral.  The tax can increase over a period of time to make carbon-hungry buildings uneconomical, incentivizing retrofits or altogether replacement.  Another aim of the policy is to concentrate cities into a defined area — promoting vertical and green development while discouraging sprawl.  This will inevitably result in abandoning structures as well as areas that are not populated enough to make it economical for the resources required to keep them within the domain of the city. There will ultimately be a lowest tax rate in the city, but since it will be connected by roads, education and health systems, there cannot be a 0% rate within cities.  This 0% rate would be reserved for sustainable communities outside the city.

One of the greatest sources of our unsustainability is our transportation system (see Transportation Trap) and city sprawl encourages private car ownership.  By discouraging sprawl and encouraging densification through an “unsustainability tax”, we’re promoting the economics of public transport and undermining the need for the private automobile.  For example, currently malls pop up in suburbs that are only easily accessed by car and require new off ramps, dedicated traffic intersections, new sewage and water lines.  Such infrastructure sprawl will become uneconomic as its construction and maintenance will no longer be subsidized.

The traditional argument would be that increasing taxes will slow down economic activity.  However, it is also true that people will spend money to avoid taxes! If the policies are announced in advance and phased in over time, people and business will be able to make the physical changes and experience little change in their tax rate.  The benefit will be a surge in building and innovation of technologies, services and systems that will result from this planned change in our built environment.  This “call to action” will create a short-term boom of 10 years or longer during the transition into our new sustainable systems.

To read more on the wisdom of densifying cities:


Entry filed under: Design, Economics, Government, Leadership, Politics, Sustainability, Thoughts. Tags: , , .

Sourcemap – Where do things come from? The Responsible Society

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tegantallullah  |  March 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Hey there thanks for checking out Earth Baby earlier (: I’m happy to see another sustainability related blog around, and will follow you!

    In terms of this post I think it’s absolutely true that using taxes and tax breaks as sustainability guiding tools would be very effective. The Stable Economy (by Zac Goldsmith) talks about this strategy quite a lot. On a related note, I think companies should definitely be fined for the pollution they create.

    I like the idea of these resource efficient cities, but unsure about the replacing of buildings. Wouldn’t large scale replacement use up a huge amount of raw materials?

    • 2. rghusted  |  March 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

      Yes, we will require new raw materials, but as we transition we will also require ourselves to reclaim and re-use the materials from buildings and roads that are no longer needed.

  • 3. narf77  |  March 11, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Love the ideas but have just 1 little question…What about the poor? They are the people completely unable to afford upgrading their homes to sustainably acceptable abodes. The same goes for their old fume spewing cars. If you haven’t got any money to pay for upgrading you just have to work with what you have. Poverty is most probably by default the biggest cause of pollution that there is because the poor are in no place to affect change and tend to be predated, used and violated by whoever has the biggest purse. It is very hard to resist against corruption and consumerism when you are starving and your children are dying. I know that most peole in the Western World are comparitively well off in comparison but there are many poor and hidden poor (homeless) wandering around cities that are going to be totally disenfranchised by any sorts of taxes (apart from the homeless who have nothing left to tax that is) that are going to make them pay more than they can afford. I think that any sort of system of change is going to have to start with dealing with this aspect before any form of taxation occurs on non compliance. Again, I am not trying to poke holes in your post, you have some really great ideas…as one of the not so rich I just needed to point that out to you :o)

    • 4. P. Anton  |  March 11, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Hmm I think you should specify what economic class you are referring to narf77. There is a big difference between extreme poverty and economic marginalization. Thanks for bringing this idea of poverty to the discussion though because I think it is very important.

      • 5. narf77  |  March 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

        Cheers for not taking offence, none was intented. I just wanted to point out that poverty both extreme and represented as the lowest shelf of the economic bookcase in first world countries takes a lot of choice out of being able to arm oneself with consumables and that includes the materials to affect change. We would love to do a whole lot more here but haven’t got the money to do so. To affect the change that we would (impatiantly) like to gain on Serendipity Farm, we need “readies” and as they are not forthcoming and won’t be any day soon, should a tax be levied on us for our old car that has no doubt seen better days but without which we would be isolated and unable to survive, or to tax us because we were using a wood fired stove (considered to be decidedly unsustainable by many people) where would we find the money to purchase food to cook? Do you see what I am saying? Most people don’t want to buy products from Walmart…their economic circumstances force them into a specific class that direct them to certain outcomes. It is very hard to be sustainable if sustainability consists of photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, hybrid cars and someone’s ability to purchase them. Hopefully you see what I am saying here. We don’t all have the choice of being able to pay for full sustainability and there would have to be some sort of govenment assistance to help the poor to purchase these items. In saying that, your idea is in line with what I feel. Communities of people united with common bonds, I aplaud your public transport idea and think that everything that you pictured was in accordance with my ideals and ideas about sustainability. I just thought that taxing people who didn’t comply might need a little bit of clarification and a bit of in depth consideration before it got voted in unanimously and was putting my “2 cents” in :o)

  • 6. P. Anton  |  March 11, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    These ideas are interesting. Where would something like this work in the developing world? Are these tax ideas only applicable to countries with a decent economy and stable social strata?

    • 7. rghusted  |  March 12, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Yes, the audience for these tax ideas are primarily for countries that are already “developed” and are suggested as ways to incentivize sustainable “re-development” within the systems that already exist. For developing countries, cantilevered sustainability offers a blueprint for building a sustainable economy. In order for humanity to achieve true sustainability, the solution has to incorporate the whole family — all 7B of us.

  • 9. varmentrout  |  March 15, 2012 at 7:03 am

    I’m pleased to discover your blog. Much of my own thinking about sustainability has focused on the idea of localization – which embodies some of the concepts you are mentioning here.

    You might find this new book a useful resource: The Localization Reader. It has a number of classic essays plus some recent contributions.

    • 10. rghusted  |  March 15, 2012 at 7:13 am

      Thanks! Yes, local, local local! It’s the key to sustainability.

  • 11. M & J  |  March 17, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Hi there- thoughtful insights… I will have to get my husband to come read this… Also interested in your take on the poorest of poor – as you read our post on the ‘Cage Homes’ recently, I’m sure you are indeed concerned with that aspect of our world as well… Thanks for checking us out & will indeed be back to see what else we can learn from your future posts…

  • 12. Edmund Amoye  |  March 18, 2012 at 11:11 am

    You have an interesting opinion, but I am worried about the unintended consequences of your idea. Your idea for sustainable communities does mark one step on the road to the solutions we all need.

    I’d like to see a “like” button for your posts, so I can return the compliment you gave my post.

    • 13. rghusted  |  March 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Yes, unintended consequences are a concern. However, we could say that the problems of climate change, pollution, crime, poverty, etc. are the unintended consequences of our current system. Hmmmmm what to do?

  • 14. Szyd  |  July 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    For some great but light analysis on the appeal of denser cities you should check out Nathan Lewis’ blog, New World Economics. He spends a lot of time exploring how to make density work for a city logistically, aesthetically and psychologically, often citing non-western examples as much as he does European ones, giving a fresh view on Urban Design post oil.

    • 15. rghusted  |  July 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Hey thanks! I will.


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