Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. A federal hazard tree-removal program will remove destroyed trees from last year's deadly Camp Fire that remain on private property and could fall on public roads and facilities. But the Chico Enterprise-Record reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency program will not take down trees that could fall on homes. Some arborists have estimated there are half a million to a million burned trees remaining from the fire that wiped out 14,000 homes and killed 85 last November. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

WE WERE JUST TAKING PICTURES. Of the ash, stray bricks, and weeds. Of twisted metal and charred patio furniture. Of the pine trees still standing on the edge of the lots, their towering trunks now charcoal black. Of the lonely white brick fireplace in the middle of it all, the only surviving structure, metal pokers hanging expectantly by the grate.

“Get the hell off my property!”

The words came bellowing from a burly man who had just pulled up to the pile of ash that once was his home in Paradise, California. As he shouted a litany of complaints, it became clear that his rage wasn’t only reserved for us trespassers — and there have been plenty who have gone to Paradise to gaze at the eerie emptiness where a thriving community once stood, before it was decimated by California’s deadliest fire one year ago.

The target was myriad forces that had conspired to twist the knife, again and again, on his already wrenching property loss — from the insurance company that wouldn’t pay up, to the county that wouldn’t let him clean up, to the state that wanted his (now contaminated) well to be sealed up. His rage was also directed at the absence of decent temporary housing for fire victims like him, not to mention the electric utility that had started the blaze and was still evading responsibility.

When the complaints petered out, I approached the man to introduce myself and apologize for our intrusion. But as I got closer, I felt his volatility: I have been in many disaster-struck communities and know how quickly the gale-force of emotion these events churn up can direct itself at the closest available target. We wished him luck and left.

The encounter was a reminder of the kind of stress that is in the air in the parts of California recently scorched by fire, as well as in the communities that have welcomed thousands of newly homeless neighbors to towns now bursting at the seams. The intersecting hardships experienced by so many in the region also explain why, days before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire that burned down Paradise and killed 86 people, local politicians in neighboring Chico unveiled a plan calling for the small city to adopt its own Green New Deal.

Like its national inspiration, the Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation, including projects earmarked for the poorest residents; and much more.

Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy.

“Your city council has heard the call of its community that has resounded locally and across the nation,” said Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown when the plan was announced. “We are choosing to walk the walk of this movement and to take the leadership being demanded of us.” In an interview, Brown told me that the Camp Fire’s impact on both Paradise and Chico was a glimpse of the future unless action is taken to both radically lower emissions and build “communities that are more resilient to these shifts.” Brown is well aware that a small city like hers isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But, she said, “We can demonstrate what a Green New Deal looks like at the local level.

The Chico plan is one of many similar local initiatives that have sprung up in the year since the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with young demonstrators demanding that the Democratic Party embrace a sweeping Green New Deal to meet the twin crises of climate disruption and deepening inequality. Since then, as the Green New Deal proposal has picked up momentum in the Democratic primaries, several states and big cities have unveiled their own frameworks, including Maine and Seattle, where city council recently passed a resolution that included the city’s most ambitious climate justice targets to date. It also pledged to create an oversight board to hold the city to its commitments, a body that will be made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustice, as well as climate experts and representatives from trade unions and green groups.

And yet the contribution now coming from humble Chico — a scrappy northern California college town with a population of approximately 100,000 — may be the most politically significant. Because the Chico Green New Deal is based directly on this region’s hard-won experience of living through the 2018 inferno; it was forged, quite literally, in fire.

Ever since the Green New Deal landed on the political map, liberals have attacked it for its supposedly impractical scope and ambition. Fighting poverty, racism, and homelessness are worthy goals, we have been told — but what do they have to do with lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Surely a carbon-centric approach — like a simple tax or cap-and-trade and some narrow regulations on polluters — would be more likely to succeed. And besides, connecting greenhouse-gas reductions with building a fairer society just confirms Republican beliefs that climate change is a vast left-wing plot: Better to focus exclusively on pollution and worry about the rest down the road. Conservative Chico city council members have gone on the offensive against the Green New Deal with precisely this kind of attack.

PARADISE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire October 21, 2019 in Paradise, California. It has been one year since the the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California charring over 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 homes and businesses. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An aerial view of a destroyed neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2019, one year after the Camp Fire. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yet Chico’s lived experience over the past year is a devastating rebuke to this line of criticism. As the community that housed the vast majority of people displaced by the Camp Fire, Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy, one that is willing to make major nonmarket investments in housing, transit, health (including mental health), water, electricity, and more. MORE

How a Toronto city charter could fend off ‘political interference’ by Queen’s Park

Proposal comes after city, province battle over council cuts, subway control


Proponents of a city charter say it will make Toronto more efficient and accountable to residents. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It’s time for Toronto to take control of its future by establishing Ontario’s first city charter, some prominent city political leaders say.

They’ve put forward a written proposal that would allow Toronto to make decisions without the need for provincial approval, including in the areas of housing, education and transit.

A number of large Canadian cities — including Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver —  already have similar charters.

“The city has to go to the provincial government for approval for all sorts of things,” said former mayor John Sewell, a member of Charter City Toronto, the group that released the proposal Tuesday morning.

“That seems to me a real wasted effort. There’s no reason to think that the province is any smarter than the city in making decisions about those kinds of issues.”

Former mayors Barbara Hall and David Miller, former premier Bob Rae and Richard Peddie, the former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, are also among those backing the proposal.

No rules are fireproof, but the ones we propose would afford solid protection for the city.– Charter City Toronto’s written proposal

The push for a charter comes at a time of heightened animosity between Toronto and the Ontario government. MORE

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We Used to Just Call These “Houses”

Image result for strong towns: We Used to Just Call These "Houses"

We have a way in the modern world of rediscovering things that humans have always done but branding them as something trendy and a little alien. So it goes with the explosion of interest in “tiny houses” as an answer to what ails cities struggling to house and attract people.

The ironic thing about tiny houses is that they’re nothing new; it’s just that, in surprisingly recent memory, our culture had a different name for them. We called them “houses.”

The Bottom Is Missing From the American Housing Market

Our houses are very big in North America. In fact, the US, Canada, and Australia are the three biggest outliers worldwide in both the average size of new homes (a whopping 2,164 square feet in the U.S.) and the average per capita living spaceHome size has crept up over the years, too. The American Enterprise Institute published a chart that shows that the average U.S. home size has increased by about 1,000 square feet since 1973, a near-doubling of living space per person. Interestingly, the same article also includes a chart that shows a relatively stable price per square foot, when adjusted for inflation, suggesting that the super-sizing of our homes in size is an underappreciated driver of today’s affordability crises.

A typical older Houston bungalow. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
A typical older Houston bungalow. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In a prior era, all sorts of housing arrangements were commonplace that you almost never see built new anymore. Shotgun houses were the predominant form for a period in cities including Louisville and New Orleans; they’re called that because they’re very narrow and linear, and you could supposedly shoot a shotgun round in the front door and out the back. The skinny row houses of cities like Philadelphia are another space-economizing, traditionally American home style. In Southern cities where the row house never predominated, you can see old neighborhoods with very modest stand-alone bungalows on very tight lots.

At the bottom of the market, for those who couldn’t afford their own home, single-room occupancy buildings (SROs) used to be common in America’s big cities: in these, you essentially rent a dorm room, and amenities like kitchens and bathrooms are shared. But it was also far more common in the past for homeowners to take in a lodger. You’d live in a finished basement or attic and pay modest rent, which was often a vital source of income to homeowners in tough times.

All of these played important roles in the human habitat, the complex ecosystem that is the city. In terms of the development and evolution of neighborhoods, the tiny house on a tiny lot is the most modest increment of development on vacant land, and it is within reach of people who couldn’t otherwise build something that will accrue wealth for them over time.

A tiny-house cluster in Oregon. (Image: Sightline Institute )
A tiny-house cluster in Oregon. (Image: Sightline Institute)

For the renter not thinking about accruing wealth, a small home lowers the bar to being able to live in a place you couldn’t otherwise live. So if you are a young person looking for work in a new city; a couple or a small family saving up for a dream home; a single older adult without a lot of stuff or the desire or means to maintain a lot of space; you have a range of options that can serve your situation. And this means, just maybe, that you can move to a better neighborhood that would otherwise be off-limits to you, or to a whole new city with more economic opportunity.

I wrote in February 2019 about an AARP report that observes that the share of U.S. households comprised of a conventional nuclear family has been falling, and is down to only 1 in 5. Our cultural narratives about desirable housing haven’t caught up to this shift; we still idealize the 3- or 4-bedroom single family house with a sizable yard.

Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 likes to ask his audiences in talks, “Who here would live in a 400 square foot apartment?” Few if any hands go up. So then he asks a follow-up question: “Who has lived in a 400 square foot apartment?” And many hands go up: all sorts of people, it turns out, live in these spaces as young adults only to turn around and say, “I can’t see how anyone would want that!” as older adults. The tiny house, the ADU, the micro-studio: these homes don’t serve every need, but they serve people in situations that aren’t alien to us, but utterly normal. So why are they so rare today? MORE

The Affordability Crisis and the 2019 Election

In March, the Broadbent Institute commissioned a study from Abacus Data to explore how Canadians feel about present-day affordability concerns. Highlights of its findings paints a bleak picture:

    • 1 in 4 Canadians say that issues such as money, taxes and housing are keeping them up at night;

    • Nearly 60 percent ranked issues tied to cost of living (wages, taxes, healthcare) as their top issues heading into the federal election;

    • Found there was a direct correlation between household income and concern about the cost of living; and,

    • When asked what would make a difference to make life more affordable, a majority felt that covering more under public health care such as dental, prescriptions, and home care, as well as access to decent work and wages would be most helpful.

Overall, the study found that Canadians have a general feeling of ‘affordability anxiety’ leading into the federal election.

For this reason, the Broadbent Institute has created a series of fact sheets that look into three major issues effecting affordability — housing, healthcare and taxes, during the federal election. With poll after poll, including our own, showing that affordability may be the top ballot box issue voters are faced with; each fact sheet will include information on a topic as it relates to affordability and the commitments and/or solutions each party has put forward.


FACT SHEETS

 

Click to Download Issue #1 Housing Factsheet

Related documents:

 

Click to Download Issue #2 Expanding Healthcare Factsheet

Related documents:

  • National Pharmacare in Canada Report

A Swiss house built by robots promises to revolutionize the construction industry

The DFAB House meets Switzerland's strict building safety codes.
The DFAB House meets Switzerland’s strict building safety codes.

Erecting a new building ranks among the most inefficient, polluting activities humans undertake. The construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a UN global survey (pdf).

A consortium of Swiss researchers has one answer to the problem: working with robots. The proof of concept comes in the form of the DFAB House, celebrated as the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods.

The three-level building near Zurich features 3D-printed ceilings, energy-efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots on site, and an intelligent home system. Developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich university and 30 industry partners over the course of four years, the DFAB House, measuring 2,370 square feet (220 square meters), needed 60% less cement and has passed the stringent Swiss building safety codes.

“DFAB” stands for digital fabrication. ROMAN KELLER

“This is a new way of seeing architecture,” says Matthias Kohler, a member of DFAB’s research team. The work of architects has long been presented in terms of designing inspiring building forms, while the technical specifics of construction has been relegated to the background. Kohler thinks this is quickly changing. “Suddenly how we use resources to build our habitats is at the center of architecture,” he argues. “How you build matters.”

DFAB isn’t the first building project to use digital fabrication techniques. In 2014, Chinese company WinSun demonstrated the architectural potential of 3D printing by manufacturing 10 single-story houses in one day. A year later, the Shanghai-based company also printed an apartment building and a neoclassical mansion, but these projects remain in the development phase.

Kohler explains that beating construction speed records wasn’t necessarily their goal. “Of course we’re interested in gaining breakthroughs in speed and economy, but we tried to hold to the idea of quality first,” he says. “You can do things very, very fast but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually sustainable.”

Robots at work. ROMAN KELLER
Man and machine


A 3D-printed ceiling in the DFAB house.

Any mention of automation necessarily conjures concerns about robots edging humans out of their jobs. But Kohler believes that embracing technology will actually augment human creativity and even foster a revival of craftsmanship. “Like a craftsman may have an iPhone in his pocket, I think that future machines will be less separated from human.” MORE

 

Cold comfort: How we cooled ourselves before A/C

Roughly 2.8 billion people live in countries where the daily average temperature is 25 C, which is set to increase as the planet warms.

As a result of cheaper technology and a greater quality of life, more people will have access to air conditioners in the future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2050, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could own an air conditioner.

This is both good and bad news. Air conditioning certainly makes people more comfortable during hot spells, but more A/C units put more stress on electricity grids, which in turn contributes to climate change.

While our grids are likely to become greener as we use renewables like solar and wind energy to replace fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, we can also become smarter in how we design buildings.

“From a technical perspective, pretty much anywhere in the world, you can build a building and not need air conditioning,” said John Dulac, an energy consultant with the International Energy Agency. He said it depends “on how you design the building environment and the ventilation in the building.”

Today, many of the office towers and condominiums we see are predominantly glass. This brings in more sunlight and therefore heat, which means a lot of electricity goes into cooling. Right now, a lot of buildings contain “thin walls, poor insulation, a lot of air gaps,” said Dulac. “It’s very hard to keep [buildings] cool.”

Even if we were to do so with greener energy, it would still be a waste of resources.

Dulac points out some older methods that can help us keep cool. For example, typically hot countries like Italy and Greece have used white roofs and lighter-coloured walls to resist the heat.

In the past, homes also had higher ceilings that kept rooms cool. Windows were built with shutters that would keep direct sunlight out, saving the home from the punishing daytime heat in summer.

In the Middle East — no stranger to extreme heat — buildings were constructed based on the typical direction of the wind and available shade. Also, the placement of buildings was important: it was common to have a courtyard that maximized shade during the day and allowed heat to rise, which was in turn replaced by cooler air from surrounding rooms. These buildings didn’t have many windows — just a couple to ensure air flow.

Dulac notes that it’s difficult to retrofit existing buildings around the world with these concepts, especially since most people live in cities, where it’s “cost-prohibitive to do those kinds of designs, and there’s not a knowledge around it.”

But since greater cooling is going to be a necessity, we might consider incorporating some of these older methods to keep us comfortable. SOURCE

‘Nowhere to go.’ Iqaluit homeless stay in shacks, old boats amid housing crisis


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in an announcement with Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Friday, Aug 2, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Nushupiq Kilabuk wakes up every day in a shack on the shores Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit with only a lantern and a camping stove to keep him warm — but he says he’s one of the lucky ones.

Next to his shack, which he built himself a little over four years ago, there are two abandoned boats. One is a wooden fishing boat with a small front cabin, the other, an overturned canoe. Inside the fishing boat are sleeping bags and a jerrycan. Underneath the overturned canoe is a mat and an empty packet of cigarettes.

People have been sleeping in and under these boats at night — often several people crowded together to escape the elements.

That’s why Kilabuk believes he’s fortunate for his shack.

“I thank God for the abundance of what I have. But the people around me that are sleeping around in the boats … I have warmth. I’m lucky. I feel bad for them,” he said Friday.

“But I feel bad for myself too because I don’t have an apartment or running water or power.”

Kilabuk is one of many homeless Inuit living in dilapidated shacks along Frobisher Bay. Some are families with small children. Some are elders. Some, like Kilabuk, do have jobs and incomes, but simply cannot afford the steep rents for homes and apartments.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report published last year found the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit was $2,648 in 2017.

There is also a major shortage of housing across the vast territory of Nunavut.

The federal government estimates Nunavut needs more than 3,000 units to meet its current housing demand, with over 4,900 individuals on waiting lists.

That’s why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was keen to call a media conference during his two-day visit to the territory to announce a new housing agreement with Nunavut.

It will provide $290 million over eight years to “protect, renew and expand” social and community housing, as well as repair and build affordable homes across the territory.

“We recognize that this is a big step forward that is going to make a huge difference in creating thousands of homes and we know this is really going to make a tangible impact in the lives of people here in the North,” Trudeau said in Iqaluit.

The newly allocated money will flow to the territory under the Trudeau government’s previously announced, decade-long national housing strategy.

“A few of them have no other choice than to commit a crime and go to jail for the winter. They get themselves a criminal record just to stay in a warm place in the winter.”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern stood next to Trudeau and expressed gratitude for the federal cash — but both also noted that more is needed.

“It is a housing crisis,” Savikataaq said. MORE

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How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’


A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change. MORE

5 Ways Doug Ford’s Government Costs Us More

Neoliberal economic philosophy wants minimum government, regulation and services, minimum taxation, and the removal of all impediments to business’ efforts to maximize profits. Doug Ford is proclaiming Ontario is ‘open for business’. His government is an example of extreme neoliberalism. The other side of the coin, social democracy, proposes government is for people. It champions the plight of folks struggling with housing, those stuck in bad jobs with poor pay, families depending on public education to help their kids get ahead, and the sick. 

If there’s one thing top of mind for most folks, it’s the cost of living. Recent polling commissioned by the Broadbent Institute showed that whether it’s housing, healthcare, or simply paying for daily basics like food, Ontarians and the rest of Canada are worried that their largely stagnated incomes just can’t keep up. And they expect their government to start doing much more to make life affordable.

When Doug Ford rolled into office last June on a simple and effective slogan: “For the People”, many expected that under his rule their affordability concerns would be answered. Within the first few months however a pattern started to form of choices and policies that benefit special interest groups, while making life for the rest of us less affordable. This budget is yet more proof that Premier Ford will end up costing most folks more.

More healthcare costs on the way

It started on his second day in office when it was quietly announced that pharmacare for those under 25 was cancelled, closing the door on the promise of pharmacare for the rest of us. It’s a good deal for drug companies and insurers who make more money off of a fractured system of largely private coverage, where little is being done to control drug costs and premiums. It’s a crappy deal for the rest of us who continue to see our out-of-pocket costs for medications rise.

Yesterday’s budget plans to “save” another $200 million through the PC Government’s controversial plan to merge Health Units, but details are non existent and it’s always dangerous to cut a critical service like healthcare before identifying where the money will come from. Many public officers of health are saying it will likely mean less locally responsively service for people. MORE

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United Conservative Party platform would harm workers, help corporations

NDP angling to put progressive policy on the agenda as the House resumes

 

Watch the video Here

Image result for jagmeet singh new green deal
In an interview with The National’s Rosemary Barton, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made it clear his main goal heading into the 2019 federal election is to “make people’s lives better.” (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC News)

OTTAWA – With just seven weeks left before Parliament adjourns ahead of the fall federal election, NDP Leader and Burnaby South MP Jagmeet Singh is angling to put a trio of progressive policies on the federal agenda.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Singh said that his three focuses will be housing, pharmacare, and spelling out his Canadian version of the “Green New Deal” put forward by U.S. lawmakers.

“We need more housing. Canadians are struggling with it; I’ve heard so many stories. Pharmacare for all. I really want a plan that lifts up everyone, that covers everyone in Canada. And finally, a Canadian version of a Green New Deal. We need to really take action on climate change,” Singh said.

Now, with talk of the Green party gaining momentum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brand damaged in the eyes of some progressive voters, and the countdown to the campaign already on, Singh is promising more details on his party’s “bold” policy propositions in the coming weeks.

Among them, his own take on a Green New Deal.

“What I want to do is move towards full investments in green energy, ending all investments at the federal stage, immediately ending all subsidies to fossil fuel sectors, and moving towards investments in renewable energy,” Singh said. MORE