Cities of the Future panel

Knowledge in Action:

USC Price Panel Explores ‘Cities of the Future’

By Cristy Lytal

Cities of the Future panel Panelists, from left: Hsi-Wei Chou, former governor of Taipei County, Taiwan; Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, Price associate professor; Hilda Blanco, interim director, Center for Sustainable Cities; Michael Antonovich, L.A. County supervisor
Photo by Deirdre Flanagan

With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, the USC Price School of Public Policy is addressing the challenges of urbanization. On April 23, USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott moderated the discussion “Cities of the Future: Community, Creativity, Culture and Technology.”

The panel featured four distinguished experts: the Honorable Michael Antonovich, Los Angeles County supervisor; Hilda Blanco, USC Price research professor and interim director of the Center for Sustainable Cities; the Honorable Hsi-Wei Chou, former governor of Taipei County, Taiwan; and Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, USC Price associate professor.

“We want to look at the future of cities and how to develop sustainable cities,” Knott said in his introduction. “We’re going to be grappling with some of the problems and many of the issues that our faculty work with.”

One of these important issues is transportation, the focus of Antonovich’s remarks.

He gave an update on several Los Angeles County transit projects, including the extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa; high-speed rail connecting Palmdale, Los Angeles and San Diego; the DesertXpress train linking Victorville to Las Vegas; and the High Desert Corridor highway between Palmdale and Apple Valley. Public-private partnerships provide funding for some of these projects, while others will potentially rely on a combination of state and federal dollars.

“This is one way that we can help alleviate the congestion that we have and increase the flow of people being able to move from one place to another in a convenient way,” he said.

Public transportation projects like these also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a key to combatting climate change. Blanco shared her expertise on the topic, beginning her remarks with the cogent statement that “climate change is real” and that public opinion is now increasing recognizing this. She cited a recent poll conducted by Knowledge Networks and reported in the New York Times (April 17, 2012) where a solid majority of their respondents agreed that “global warming is affecting the weather in the U.S.”

She explained that cities of the future will need to become more compact, transit reliant, and fuel and energy efficient. Metropolises will have to plant more trees and paint buildings lighter colors to reduce solar absorption.

In response to increasingly extreme weather, building codes may require structures to withstand stronger storms, and to be elevated and water resistant in coastal areas. California is already at the forefront of sustainability efforts, including developing mixed-use communities, promoting renewable energy and decreasing water consumption.

Taipei County has also made impressive inroads in sustainability. Eight years ago, Chou decided to run for governor of Taipei County, because he said he “wanted to build a sustainable city for the citizens, birds, fish, flowers and all other kinds of species.”

When he won the election, he outlined two ambitious goals: To clean the main river in Taiwan, and to create a sustainable city. Under his watch, Taipei County shut down factories that polluted the river water, cleaned up the garbage that littered the banks, created man-made wetlands, and built nearby bicycle paths, sports fields and playgrounds.

The county also introduced a green transit system through a network of high-speed rail, subways and electric buses. Throughout his term, Chou invited the public to actively participate in all of these sustainability efforts.

“Government doesn’t have to lead the way,” he said. “People can lead the way, once they learn. Once they change their stereotypical thinking, then everything can happen. Participation is so important.”

Currid-Halkett expanded the conversational palette from green to multicolor by discussing the importance of arts and culture to cities. She explained that there is no longer a division between bourgeois and bohemia, and between high art and low art. For cities to thrive socially, culturally and economically, they must cultivate all of the arts.

“It’s not necessarily about writing a check,” Currid-Halkett said. “It may in fact be about supporting art districts. It may be about the way in which we zone such that artists can coexist in certain areas and not be pushed out. It may be about preventing gentrification which forces artists, who don’t generally make a lot of money, to go elsewhere. And these are the ways in which we as planners and policymakers need to think about supporting the arts in the 21st century.”

During the question-and-answer session that followed, audience members asked thought-provoking questions about the logistics of cleaning up Taiwan’s river, the feasibility of Los Angeles County’s transit plans and the future of arts advocacy. One person asked the panelists how artists can inspire people to be more green.

Chou, who is also a renowned artist, gave a simple and inspiring example.

“I myself designed a big mug,” he said. “The mug is so big you can actually pour beer or noodle soup or cereal inside, so you only need one cup for everything. And the cup is designed in a very beautiful way. Introducing these beautiful artworks into our sustainable living can be very exciting and challenging.”

The same can be said for the future of cities.