USC Price School of Public Policy

CSC Hosts First Climate Change Forum

Center for Sustainable Cities Hosts First Climate Change Forum

By Matthew Kredell

Climate Change Forum USC professor Dan Mazmanian, left, and Con Howe, managing director of CityView
Photo by Tom Queally

The Center for Sustainable Cities, housed within the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, held its inaugural forum on climate change in November.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB), offered the keynote address on the role of cities in mitigating climate change. USC Price professor Dan Mazmanian, director of the Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise and a member of the executive committee of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, and Con Howe, managing director of the institutional investment firm CityView and a member of the latter center’s advisory board, moderated a discussion following the speech.

Hilda Blanco, research professor and interim director of the Center for Sustainable Cities, followed with an explanation of the ongoing research planned at the center. Among current projects, Blanco discussed an assessment of the capacity for Southern California’s water supply plans and strategies to meet the challenges of climate change; modeling and economic impact analysis of effective carbon-reduction strategies; and measuring urban sustainability. She also explained the center’s summer research fellows program, where graduate students are selected to conduct supervised research.

Recent projects include a comparative study of climate change adaptation plans in the United States, a literature review of research on the effectiveness of retrofitting strategies and a comparative analysis of sustainability rating systems.

USC Price dean Jack H. Knott and senior associate dean for research and technology Genevieve Giuliano gave introductions for the event.

The mission of the Center for Sustainable Cities is to improve the environment, economic vitality and social equity of metropolitan areas through multidisciplinary research, education and community outreach. The center was established in 1998 and moved to USC Price (then named the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development) in 2009.

“This center is very important to our school because it reaches every facet of what we do at our school,” Knott said. “It touches on real estate, urban development, land use, planning, public policy, transportation, housing and governance. This center is really a centerpiece of the school.

“Climate change is perhaps today’s most important issue that we face as a global society. I’m pleased that this event is taking place, and we get to promote a dialogue and look at innovative solutions for global climate change.”

In her keynote remarks, Nichols discussed SB 375, or the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, and what the ARB is doing to support cities in achieving the targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For the Southern California Association of Governments, these targets are an 8 percent reduction by 2020 and 13 percent by 2035. The metric used for measuring reduction is amount of vehicle miles traveled.

“This whole issue of how to make our cities more livable and less of a burden on the environment has been with us for many, many years,” Nichols said. “Some of us have developed gray hair while working on it. One of the things we’ve tried to do over the years is find ways to show people why sprawl is bad and why having a more compact urban development form would be better for the economy, the environment, investments and transportation, etc. SB 375 happened to come along at a helpful time because it allows us to give cities benchmarks to compare and contrast and compete against each other for the development they want.”

Nichols doesn’t believe we are going to see the last of gasoline and the conventional internal combustion engine anytime soon. Instead, she foresees the ingenuity of auto companies leading to having vehicles that essentially look like today’s cars and run on today’s fuels but get 75 miles to the gallon in the near future.

Nichols explained that what the ARB needs from the college level are valid, accurate models that are capable of forecasting the effects of different transportation and land-use policies on future greenhouse gas emissions and a research community to measure statewide progress under SB 375.

“The main takeaway message that I got was that we need to look at more metrics and a way of measuring the actual reduction of greenhouse gases to analyze if these policies are working,” said Linda Lou, a second-year Master of Planning student with an emphasis on sustainability. “I think everyone has the feel-good goals of reducing emissions, and many cities are looking into that. The objectives are very positive. How we prove the strategies are working is a different story. I thought it was good that Mary Nichols emphasized that.”

That is where the Center for Sustainable Cities can make an impact. Blanco indicated that the center, which researches international issues but also has a special focus on the Los Angeles area, stresses how strategies and policies should be evidenced-based.

“We’d like to see them work,” she said.

The center conducts research in three thematic areas: cities and climate change, efficient and sustainable infrastructure, and sustainable policies and governance.

Blanco explained how the snowpack is decreasing; estimates show that it may be reduced by 25 to 40 percent by 2050 and 60 to 80 percent by the end of the century. If that occurs, 25 percent of stored water supplies in the state may not be available by the end of the century.

The Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 established a plan to make a 20-percent reduction in water use in California by 2020. In USC’s region, this would mean a daily 36-gallon decrease in consumption per capita.

“Urban sustainability is crucial due to increasing urbanization and the challenges of climate change,” Blanco said. “We at the Center for Sustainable Cities are beginning to contribute to make knowledge in this area more rigorous, productive and applicable to urban regions.”