A heartfelt THANK YOU to all the staff, faculty, students, parents, and friends of the School of Sustainability for making this year’s Sun Devil Giving Day a resounding success! We blew past our goal and raised $6,200 from 62 gifts. Kristen Wolfe and Kelly Crow teamed up with the ASU Foundation to highlight the School of Sustainability with interactive events outside Wrigley Hall. President Crow stopped by to vote for Sustainability at the ‘what matters to you’ wall. All in all, it was a positive, upbeat day that showcased the generosity of people who believe in the mission and goals of SOS.
By the time the application window closed, Amazon had received 238 proposals from cities and regions throughout North America looking to become the second headquarters of the behemoth tech company.
Amazon invited proposals especially from places that looked a lot like its native Seattle: metro areas with more than a million people; a stable and business-friendly environment; communities that could “think big and creatively” about real estate options; and a location that would attract and retain technical talent.
In the race to attract high-tech companies, what can cities and regions do to become centers of innovation? At the moment, some places are clearly in the lead.
By my analysis of data from the U.S. Patent Office, Santa Clara County, California, is sprinting ahead of the country. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 140,000 patents were granted in Santa Clara County. That’s triple the number for second-ranked San Diego County.
Four other counties in California – Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda and Orange – make the top 10. Washington’s King County, Massachusetts’s Middlesex County, Michigan’s Oakland County and Arizona’s Maricopa County round out the list.
These counties are in large metropolitan areas that are known as technology and innovation centers, including San Francisco, San Diego, Boston and Seattle. The other metro areas in the top 10, not the usual tech-hub suspects, are Greater Los Angeles, Detroit and Phoenix.
Besides large concentrated populations, these metro areas share two other ingredients that support innovation. All of them have one or more leading research universities and a large proportion of college-educated people.
Santa Clara County is home to Stanford University, an institution that has become synonymous with the high-tech and innovation economy of Silicon Valley.
Stanford’s rise as a world-class research university coincided with a rapid increase in federal and military spending during the Cold War. The university’s suburban location gave it an advantage, too, by providing land for expansion and for burgeoning high-tech companies. Stanford’s leadership aggressively courted research opportunities aligned with the priorities of the military-industrial complex, including electronics, computing and aerospace.
As a leader in patents, Santa Clara County benefits from a well-educated population, with more than half a million adults over 25 years of age holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, the 10th-highest figure in the country.
Nationally, there is a strong relationship between the number of college-educated adults and the number of patents filed in those counties. I found that, for every increase of 1,000 college-educated people, one can expect 33 more patents to be granted in those counties.
For counties that contain one or more of the country’s “131 Doctoral Universities with Very High Research Activity,” as ranked by Indiana University’s Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the average number of patents filed was 6,686, compared to only 371 for counties lacking one of these research institutes.
Cost of living
Another common trait about most of these centers of innovation is the jaw-dropping cost of housing.
The median sale price for houses in San Jose in Santa Clara County exceeded US$1 million for every month in 2018. Between 2000 and 2017, house prices more than doubled in the California and Washington state counties with the highest number of patents.
Competition for higher-wage talent pushes up housing and other costs in these innovation centers. Although housing prices increased in greater Boston, Phoenix and Detroit, they remained relative bargains compared to the West Coast.
The threat of rising housing costs and gentrification was one of many reasons why residents protested the planned building of Amazon’s second headquarters in the New York City borough of Queens. The company has now decided to pull out.
Facing rising rents in San Francisco, many residents are leaving for surrounding suburbs or farther afield. Gentrification in high-tech cities coincides with homelessness and growing inequalities, hitting minority communities hardest.
Rising living costs in these tech centers can create innovation opportunities for communities inland where living costs are lower. There are more than 4,600 degree-granting institutions located across the U.S. in communities large and small.
In my view, one way to unleash innovation would be to tap into the rich diversity of students, faculty and communities at two- and four-year colleges beyond the typical top 100 research institutes.
For example, universities might invest in inquiry-based programs, where learning is guided by questions, research and discovery rather than simply receiving knowledge. Or, they could focus on lifelong learning and entrepreneurship training.
In this way, it may be possible for smaller colleges and universities and the communities they serve to provide alternative pathways to innovation. If this happens, the technology giants of the future may be fighting to locate in the middle of the U.S., rather than the coasts.
The graduates sitting in front of me know that we are living in exciting and challenging times. Even though understanding the present, let alone the future, is exceedingly difficult, in SOS we share the belief that the world is on the cusp of significant change. And we need to drive that change so that it is equitable, enduring, secure, and sustainable.
History shows that positive transformation is possible. When the Millennium Development Goals challenged the global community to cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger by 2015, many thought the goals were too ambitious and impossible to achieve—that disappointment would lead to disillusionment. Instead, the world met or exceeded those goals, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty from 50 percent to 14 percent and the number of undernourished people from 24 to 13 percent.
Success from the Millennium Development Goals inspired people to aim even higher in creating the Sustainable Development Goals. Most of you probably know all 17 by heart. Maybe you have them on your mortarboards or as an app on your phone.
Any one of them I hope will inspire you to think about how to accelerate the transition to a desirable, sustainable future—one that celebrates clean and affordable energy (#7), sustainable cities and communities for an urbanizing planet (#11), protection and restoration of earth’s ecosystems (#15), inclusive and sustainable growth (#8), availability and sustainable management of water for all (#6).
My challenge to members of this graduating class is that you will together speed up the transition to a sustainable world, one that allows people and planet to thrive, not just survive.
I also recognize that each of you today is going through a personal transition, from student to graduate. Transitions can be incredibly exciting and joyful, but also laden with uncertainty, trepidation, and even fear. It is perfectly normal to feel both. But I ask you to draw on your inner optimist and change-agent selves, and embrace transition as an extraordinary, thrilling, and fulfilling set of opportunities. I know this focus on opportunity for positive change, rather than doom and gloom, is what inspired many of you to come to SOS in the first place. Don’t lose that fire and spirit.
Finally, remember that as you start your next chapter, you will not be alone. You are now and forever will be part of the SOS family. More than anything, we want to help you succeed. Visit us often and keep in touch.
Lean on each other. Take care of one another. Successful transitions to a better future will take teamwork, a shared vision, perseverance, and the passion each of you has inside to change the world for the better. Congratulations Class of 2018!
Since 1970, more Americans have lived in the suburbs than central cities. In 2010, suburbanites outnumbered city and rural dwellers combined for the first time. We Americans live in a suburban nation.
Despite several concerted efforts by city governments to lure residents, suburbanization continues largely unabated. Census figures from earlier this year show that suburbs of warm climate “Sun Belt” cities in the South and West continue to grow, while cities in the cold climate “Snow Belt” of the Midwest and Northeast decline.
Smaller metropolitan areas with fewer than 500,000 people have also grown, related to an improving economy and job creation in smaller urban centers. This ongoing shift towards the suburbs has significant environmental repercussions.
Since cities and suburbs are home for 8 of every 10 Americans, views of the country are often distorted. Most travel occurs within or between cities. Although rural areas have more than three times the miles of roadways as urban areas, more than two-thirds of the 3 trillion miles that vehicles travel each year in the U.S. are in urban and suburban areas.
With this economic activity comes a high use of natural resources and concentrated pollution production. Although density can be more efficient when it comes to energy use, the sheer number of urban dwellers means that cities, despite a small physical footprint, have a big energy and pollution footprint.
Rising suburbanization undermines some of the energy efficiency gained by high density living in urban cores. Manhattan has lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions than the suburbs of New York, thanks to factors like apartment living, high costs of car ownership and extensive public transit. Of course, not everyone can afford to live in Manhattan even if they want to. Low-density suburbs are an affordable alternative.
The trend toward suburban life could soon come to an end. Millennials – the generation born between 1981 and 1997 – appear to prefer urban life. They are happier in cities, especially large metropolitan areas, than older generations. The millennial population is growing fastest in metro areas in the Sun Belt and western states, and slowest in the Snow Belt. Topping the list of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas for millennials are Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Denver and Orlando.
Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that people will start to move out of cities and suburbs and back into rural areas. Even though increased connectivity and the internet of things will make remote work more possible than before, businesses will continue to concentrate in urban cores, because they profit from being close to one another. (Futurists once thought the telephone would make crowded cities unnecessary.)
I believe that it’s likely the U.S. will remain a nation of suburbs for some time to come. That will pose a continuing environmental challenge. But it will also bring a new set of opportunities for millennials, who are predicted to overtake baby boomers by next year as the largest generation in the country. How will that generation remake the suburbs to suit their needs and desires without exacerbating current environmental challenges? The answer has profound implications for the nature of cities and urban life in the U.S.
Here is my September video address to students about new and upcoming opportunities in the School of Sustainability. We have record enrollment this year and students joining us from across the country and around the world.
As I noted in an earlier post, students in the School of Sustainability are coming from far and wide to study with us. This year, we have students from 24 countries in our undergraduate and graduate programs. The diverse origins of our students reflects the strong international reputation of ASU’s School of Sustainability. Having students from all corners of the globe is also an extraordinary gift.
When I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto, a large and impactful part of my education was learning alongside students from other parts of the world. I was fortunate to be in a graduate program where more than half of the students were from countries other than Canada. I have not forgotten how valuable that experience was. I am committed to making sure that our own students benefit from global experiences, whether learning with students from other parts of the world or learning in other parts of the world.
This year, Dr. Rob Melnick has taken on the responsibility of coordinating and enhancing all of our international efforts. The purpose is to make sure that students recognize the range of global experiences available to them–lots of exciting things to come!
The School of Sustainability (SOS) continues to grow in size, reputation, and reach. Data from this year’s class show that students come from 42 states and the District of Columbia. I am proud that SOS serves the nation by providing an excellent education for students from all parts of the country (and many parts of the world: see next post).
This year we have more than 500 undergraduate majors and 200 graduate students studying with us in SOS. When we add the sustainability minor, sustainability concentrations in business, engineering, public policy, and interdisciplinary studies, along with the certificates in sustainability food systems and energy systems, I anticipate the total number of students in sustainability programs will exceed 2,500 by the end of the year. What all of this exemplifies is ASU’s institutional commitment to sustainability, inclusivity, and impacts that reach far and wide.
I am very happy to welcome new students to the School of Sustainability, a growing number joining us through online and on-campus programs. 2018-19 promises to be an exciting year with lots of new initiatives that will enhance your learning and experiences with us.
Sustainability is a disruptive force. By fundamentally changing the way we think about interconnected social-ecological-technical systems, sustainability demands new models for governance, institutions, economies, technologies, and value systems. These are necessary changes. All of our students know that maintaining the status quo will be inadequate at best, dangerous at worst. We must find new ways, new interventions, to build a sustainable future.
However, change can bring hardship. In the 15th century, the advent of the printing press in Europe set in motion the spread of knowledge and literacy, but put thousands of scribes out of work. The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century spurned the growth of incomes, cities, life spans, and educational attainment, but undermined the way of life for small-scale artisans. The knowledge revolution and growth of computing and robotics is eliminating occupations and will do so in ways we don’t fully comprehend. Transitions can release people from drudgery or dangerous work, but also separate them from their livelihoods, their communities, what they know and how they define themselves.
We are now undergoing an energy transition, away from coal to natural gas and renewables. This should have positive effects for the planet by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. But it can be devastating to coal mining communities. The planned closure of the Navajo Generating Station, one of the worst polluting coal-fired power plants in the United States (and also expensive to operate), will have positive environmental benefits but will put thousands of people out of work, many on the Navajo Reservation. As GIOS Director Dr. Dirks reminds us, one of the reasons that energy from solar panels is becoming inexpensive is that these systems, once installed, require very few workers.
It is important to remember that embedded in the term sustainability is the notion of human well-being. A key challenge for all of you is develop transition strategies that are just and fair, paying careful attention to people who are most vulnerable. The pace of change will continue to accelerate and change will happen in sudden, unanticipated ways. And change must happen. What I ask of all of you is to use your deep systems and normative perspectives to make sure that the transitions lead to ‘inclusive, inter-generational human well-being’ (Matson, Clark & Andersson 2016) while taking care of earth’s life systems on which we all depend.
Sustainability is a disruptive force, and should be. But I urge all of you to take on this awesome responsibility, and amazing sets of opportunities, with care. I am confident you will.
Congratulations Class of 2018!
Matson, Pamela, Clark, William C., and Krister Andersson. 2016. Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sustainability has often been described as a ‘normative science.’ This means that sustainability asks what we should do to make things better for present and future generations and the planetary systems that support life. Embedded in the notion of should and better is a sense of fairness, or equity.
Sustainability is a powerful idea because it starts with the principle of inter-generational equity, meaning that current generations need to think of the well-being of future generations, not just their own, as they make decisions.
It also includes the need for intra-generational equity, or fairness within present generations of people, both as a principle of fairness and for what is necessary to get us to a sustainable future (gross inequities can undermine the ability of societies to think and act in the interests of long term viability of people and the planet).
The sustainability principles of fairness and equity are best achieved through deliberate acts of inclusion. I use the term ‘deliberate’ deliberately because inclusion rarely happens on its own. This is not necessarily because of bad intentions, but because people will often seek out those who share the same values and experiences and even physical appearances.
But the pay-offs of deliberate inclusiveness are too important to ignore. We have ample evidence that demonstrates that innovation and group productivity is enhanced by greater diversity and inclusivity. To be clear, these pay-offs occur not simply from grouping diverse people together — there must be opportunity for all individuals in the group to participate, have a voice, or state an opinion. A key role of leaders is making sure that all–not only the loudest or the most senior–are deliberately invited to participate. It is also critical that people are treated with dignity and respect, and know they are valued.
In sustainability, we benefit from teaching in a field that requires inclusive approaches in order to succeed. In the School of Sustainability, inclusivity is built into our curricula, whether in methods (e.g. stakeholder engagement) or as core content (e.g. justice and ethics in sustainability).
Principles of equity, diversity, and inclusivity cannot be ‘add-ons’ or afterthoughts if they are going to be taken seriously. In my experience, the best way to engage meaningfully with these and other principles is to integrate them into the curriculum, which is something we have worked hard to do over the last dozen years in the School of Sustainability. This is not about imposing one’s set of morals on another — it is about recognizing what makes institutions effective and what motivates people so that they can continue to grow, learn, and be successful.
For sustainability to succeed, it must be an all-in endeavor.