Decarbonizing the Economy
Aging, disinvested communities spend a disproportionate share of their burdened budgets on local schools and not enough on creating the opportunities that recapture their homegrown, well-educated future workforce after university, as well as compete for top talent globally.
This high-cost, diminishing-return education model is a holdover from the era of corporate suburbs, whose economies have since relocated to urban knowledge settings. In the suburban heyday of the 1970s and 80s, opportunity was plentiful — with a jobs-to-housing ratio of 3:2. Prosperous communities could afford lavish local schools, investing in talent that returned not only present but future value for a growing economy.
Small town budgets now subsidize a feeder system to the global marketplace, bearing the brunt of high-cost education but seeing increasingly little return as home values and school enrollments continue to fall and young people seek their best opportunities in a competitive world.
“Small town budgets now subsidize a feeder system to the global marketplace.”
The revolving door of the K-12 suburban tenure, where the single family home serves as a proxy boarding school dormitory for the entire family, has run its course.
In order to prosper, communities need to recover an entrepreneurial spirit. Bottom-up initiatives, lateral cross-discipline collaborations, an optimism, curiosity, and generosity for the future as it unfolds will deliver suburbia’s reboot.
Small towns can compete with high-cost, increasingly anonymous cities, remade by global real estate, by offering opportunities of lower overhead in settings that align with core millennial values of social purpose and environmental well being.
“Small towns can compete with high-cost, increasingly anonymous cities, remade by global real estate, by offering opportunities of lower overhead in settings that align with core millennial values of social purpose and environmental well being.”
Knowledge and talent are mobile in the information age.
It’s overdue time to pivot from investing in transient talent to investing in the opportunities and conditions that identify talent and bring it home.
Opportunity, Values, Purpose
Millennials and Gen Z are a generation so rare to current suburbs they constitute an endangered species.
Well-recognized for being purpose-driven, social impact-oriented, and prioritizing environmental well-being, millennials and Gen Z are also entering young adulthood with unprecedented financial precarity and limited opportunity. Where this key cohort can align opportunity, values, and purpose, they will flock, revitalizing the demographic imbalance of aging communities.
It’s not bicycle paths and nightlife young people seek but, as with every generation that precedes them, purpose, meaning, and possibility.
“It’s not bicycle paths and nightlife young people seek but, as with every generation that precedes them, purpose, meaning, and possibility.”
Offering young people settings that align with values of environmental health anticipates future carbon pricing, increasingly proposed as a financial incentive to urgently decarbonize the economy. Small towns can reinvent themselves as innovation platforms at far less cost and more nimbly than their bureaucratically top-heavy urban counterparts requiring expensive infrastructure retrofits.
This is a market opportunity.
In the struggle to achieve racial integration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed economic justice as fundamental to the dignity and sustaining prosperity of African-Americans and all oppressed people. He did not shy from the fight. King was killed three weeks before the Poor People’s Campaign was scheduled to march on Washington, D.C.
To the crime of racial economic inequality, our communities and future generations suffer ecological injustice.
We cannot prevail without power; without economic self-determination we cannot right our course.
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”— MLK, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here,” 1967