Parting Thoughts

Tomorrow morning I catch an early flight to Munich. Our time in Brussels has been rich and it seems a shame to say goodbye so soon. I just returned from a delightfully hospitable dinner hosted by a former MMF staff member who is now at the European Foundation Centre and her husband who is a Norwegian consul to the EU. They've been here only two months after relocating their family of five from Turkey. Alessandra is Italian and Steven is Norwegian. They went to school in the U.S. and have lived in Norway, Berlin, Istanbul and now Brussels; they are the epitome of the new European, proud of their homelands, conscientious for Europe and filled with tentative hope for a progressive unity. Their young sons hint at the future, speaking Turkish, Italian, Norwegian and English like their parents and building a broad portfolio of place.

Before I continue on about today, let me tell you more about yesterday. After visiting NATO a couple of us visited the D├ępartement Urbanisme, Ville de Bruxelles. They were organized in 1995 to bring residential density back into the city center. At the time there were 645 abandoned buildings in the largely industrial area. Today they have been able to occupy 572 of the properties and project 8500 new inhabitants by year end. This reminded me of a what was accomplished in Chattanooga when I was there with the founding of the Urban Design Center and River City Partners, and the continuation of that work through Create Here. Some of their tactics were familiar, but some of them were new to me:
- They created a new tax for abandoned floors of buildings to encourage landlords to fill them. If they were occupied then there was no tax. This was justified by saying that if there were residents then the city would be receiving taxes. Without them there was no income so someone else needed to pay it.

- They brokered Collective Property Purchases by finding interested sellers and then helping organize multiple buyers to purchase the building. These seemed to work for commercial and residential.

- They created a Social Housing Agency that functions like a leasing agent. If landlords commit to a 9 year lease the agency will pay 40% of the renovation fees and cover them all for a 25 year lease. The agency will guarantee rent to the landlord and manage the tenant.

- They located their group of seven in the same building where all construction and zoning permits are processed. This gave them the advantage of being able to fast track decisions and again reminded me of the Regional Planning Center in Chattanooga.
Now that they've proven success they have been given other redevelopment tasks in the city, converting an abandoned train station to an art center and revitalizing another historic neighborhood. With all of this success I couldn't help but wonder why America and Europe have this problem. What is it about our cultures that creates this phenomenon of city center flight and is this the solution or just a 15 year bandage?

Now back to today. We met with several constituents of the the European Union and also received an EU 101 briefing. Climate change is a hot topic and as is the Copenhagen summit so I thought it worth sharing some of their thoughts. The baseline is that European governments are very active in taking measures to reverse climate change and there is no partisan bickering about whether or not its happening. Here is how Steven Everts framed it:

1) Growth of energy demands will double in the next 20 years
2) Traditional energy supplies are maturing
3) Climate stresses are increasing

These three facts set the EU policy: more energy with less Carbon. Here are the highlights from MEP Reinhard B├╝tikofer, Zoltan Simon, Political Advisor, and Steven Everts, Special Counsellor, Council of the European Union.

- Self preservation is personal, not corporate. They believe the U.S. administration is in support of the ideals of Kyoto but won't meet the standards because the American public is not on board. The MEP said that as an empathetic politician he understood why Congress would not sacrifice swing states for an international treaty and that was just the reality of politics. This comment drained my already waning energy.

- People have to see near term benefits to care. Since the Kyoto treaty was signed Germany has produced 280,000 new jobs directly related to the mission. In Hungary climate change became a public concern when it was tied to energy security.

- We still set a global example. Since the U.S. will not meet the 2012 carbon emissions reductions we have to do other things that will convince the rest of the world we are sincere about the issue by pursuing alternative energy and being generous with technology transfer. We are proposing new architecture for the measures of the treaty that are less stringent. The MEP said that our softness here will justify China, India and Brazil's non-compliance and make null any progress of the remaining countries, essentially making Kyoto meaningless.

- The basics are still food, water and shelter. Climate change is a foreign policy concern and is driving poor geopolitical behavior in Russia, Sudan, Iran, Brazil and Venezuela. Continued stress on resources will drive more more people to leave their home countries for places with more food, water and energy causing new crises. Immigration is already a major problem here and this exacerbates it.

- Everything comes back to price. The "cap and trade" program is working in the EU because it is a fundamental change to the economy, costing people money for doing the wrong thing. Mr. Everts said that a carbon tax could work as well and consider both concepts a correction of market failure. The intent is to cause bad behavior to become more expensive so that the free market will find better and cheaper ways to produce goods.

- ... and justice for all. There is European sentiment to "pay for their sins". You may recall my post on the GMF trends report that said Europeans will trade progress for a better environment. Another fundamental difference I've noted since being here is that Europeans are willing to sacrifice to make amends for their past actions. It's why "cap and trade" works here and why you can tax vacancy in a building.

Now, a few hours sleep, then Bavaria.