Sustainability and the Biosphere We Inhabit

Billed as the world's largest scientific instrument, Biosphere 2 was built in the Arizona desert outside of Tucson in the late 1980s/early 1990s to model Earth, the first biosphere. Constructed by a private company looking to study space colonization technology, it was a project somewhat akin to miniaturizing the planet within a test tube, albeit a very large one -- three acres --with an equally large price tag of more than $150 million.

Eight biospherians entered this living laboratory in 1991 to reside within its sealed-off environment for two years. They wanted to demonstrate that humans had the biological and engineering know-how to build a self-contained system resilient to unpredicted challenges and capable of sustaining life over an extended period. It stands today as the first real-world, large-scale attempt to build a resilient, sustainable community and study it scientifically as a complex system in operation. READ MORE

Why a Regional View of Infrastructure Is Crucial

Dramatic images of crumbling roadways, derailed trains and collapsed bridges can be counted on to make the evening news. But the public-sector financial bodies, planning organizations and engineers entrusted with the maintenance and repair of our infrastructure aren't particularly newsworthy -- until something really bad happens. Ensuring that infrastructure gets the attention it needs before those bad things happen is a significant challenge for government.

Given that need to get the public and policy-makers to focus on the state of the crucial systems that underlie our regions, the recently released "2015 State of the Region: Infrastructure Report" by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) is remarkable for both its purpose and scope. READ MORE

The Real Loser in Chicago's Mayoral Election

On Tuesday, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to win the majority he needed for reelection. He received just 45.4 percent of the vote -- a far cry from the 55.2 percent he gathered in 2011. He now heads into an April runoff against Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. “Not even I, an avid follower of Chicago politics, knew who Chuy Garcia was when he announced his candidacy a few months ago,” wrote Politico’s Carol Felsenthal. National observers might wonder: How did this happen?

From the outside, Emanuel appeared to have a strong first term. Even as Chicago’s murder rate soared, national press coverage of the city and its mayor has been mostly positive. The Financial Times dubbed Emanuel Mayor America. Thomas Friedman wrote a glowing column about Emanuel’s agenda in the New York Times. The Brookings Institution hosted him in Washington for a discussion with David Brooks. Emanuel’s Chicago has regularly been cited for innovation in the use of technology and data in government. READ MORE

The Evolving Politics of Climate Change

There's growing evidence that the nature of our contentious debate about climate change in America is shifting. An overwhelming majority of the American public -- including 51 percent of Republicans as well as 91 percent of Democrats -- now supports government action to curb global warming, according to a January poll by The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan environmental research group.

What type of government action the public will support on climate change, of course, needs to be sorted out. Certainly there's reason to believe that such actions will have significant regional differences. States and local governments on the coasts have garnered the majority of media attention, but in Utah there's an interesting climate-action story playing out in Salt Lake City. READ MORE

The Critical Interdependence of Our Infrastructure

Challenges to building and maintaining infrastructure vary greatly across our regions. The ongoing drought in California poses a markedly different problem compared to record-setting downpours and flooding in other states. But within regions, there is a different imperative: Given the interdependencies among transportation, water, energy and waste systems, it makes a great deal of sense to formulate planning regionally.

Whether across or within regions, however, one thing doesn't vary: Residents expect government leaders to keep their communities' infrastructure systems operating, and this entails spending a lot of money. In the Pacific Coast region alone, the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange estimates the need to be greater than $1 trillion over the next 30 years. READ MORE