Be Bold: Align with the Future
By: Mary Lydon and Tony Pauker
If you read the local papers or listen to broadcast news, you know that it seems as if we are collectively holding our breath, just waiting for things to get back to the way they were. But “the way things were” is not sustainable.
From a broad perspective, we seem exceedingly resistant to imagining any new way of living and conducting commerce. Why is it that we are so afraid to mass market a big bold new vision for ourselves? Are we in denial? Are we lazy? There is a new normal emerging, and one thing is crystal clear: China and India, nations that represent 50 percent of the global population, are not waiting.
China’s 25-year vision includes building a network of ultramodern airports with major cities connected by high-speed rail. In addition, Beijing Genomics Institute has ordered 128 DNA sequencers, which is more than any other single institute in the world owns. They also will provide $15 billion in seed money to develop electric vehicle technology. The Chinese also have a massive investment in Africa — a continent we forget about. They aren’t doing this out of some duty to save the planet. The Chinese clearly see emerging markets that will provide the opportunity for them to become a global economic power now and well into the future.
What is our 25-year vision? If you track major news media and national politics, it seems our focus is on bringing stability to Afghanistan. In many ways, San Diego is already positioning itself to thrive in the future, but we could be bolder, especially in the areas of high-tech transit, design and renewable energy, which have the greatest opportunity to create new local jobs and place us at the cutting edge of the next economic upturn.
Last week, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a one-day high-speed rail conference in Anaheim. There were 400 attendees from all over the state that came together to explore design, development, economic and social opportunities for the proposed 46-stop, $43 billion California High Speed Rail system. Andreas Heym, director of international development at the Paris architecture and design firm AREP, presented at the conference. For 20 years, AREP, has designed high-speed and other rail stations and master plans throughout France and in 20 countries, including Turin, Italy and Shanghai and Wuhan, China. He discussed the economic development opportunities for both major hub cities as well as rural areas. France’s system has taken 20 years to develop. It never could have been done without complicated public/private partnerships, but they took the risk to move forward and are not looking back. Anyone who has used a Eurail pass can attest to the brilliance of that strategy.
This past summer, ULI San Diego conducted a one-day design charrette focused on a new Destination Lindbergh intermodal transit station adjacent to Pacific Highway. Thirty ULI members including senior staff from SANDAG, the Airport Authority, Caltrans and the city of San Diego came up with three design concepts that explored this location as more than a transit center. Accolades were given to the group at the High Speed Rail conference from Andreas Heym for thinking big. He said we should not think small when contemplating these high-speed rail stops and surrounding development.
It is unclear if high-speed rail in this country can mirror Europe and Asia. However, it is clear that innovation that is forward thinking with cutting edge design is what is needed to explore what will work in this country.
In May 2008, a delegation of AIGA (the professional association for design) traveled to China on a unique art, design and cross-cultural journey. They also visited large art and design universities, agencies and publishing companies. Local San Diego designer Bennett Peji stated that “China is developing a creative economy like Japan was 30 years ago, but with the compressed process now, due to technology, it will not take that long.” Japan has the most innovative designers in the world, and China is starting to find its own style. China now has 1,251 art and design schools and 1,000,000 artists and designers graduating annually. China’s vision includes technology, design and energy revolutions. Innovation and entrepreneurial capital are now the driving force behind the Chinese economy. This makes a compelling case for San Diego to further cultivate a creative economy. When technology, art, design and education work synergistically, it gives us a sharper edge toward an emerging future.
There is a connection between high-speed rail, design and energy that needs to be evaluated, and the price of oil plays a big role. As long as “stated” price of oil is a cheap $75 per barrel, severing oil dependence is difficult, because people have no financial motivation to do so. The economic underpinning is that most U.S. oil is imported, as is the oil China and India use. The global supply of oil will last between 50 to 100 more years, depending upon Chinese and Indian consumption. The U.S. oil cost is magnified by military costs. Hence, the true cost is subsidized by the government.
Those nations realizing they cannot supply their own oil and are unable to afford a true price of oil will evaluate alternate technologies like algae, solar, thermal or wind. You can expect China and India to do so. The entire globe is going to be looking for cheap non-oil based solutions. Whoever perfects an alternative to oil will make people like Bill Gates and Henry Ford look like paupers. On a positive note, our neighbors to the east in Imperial County are cultivating a hotbed of new businesses that has the opportunity to put this region on the renewable energy map.
It is time to look to creative future strategies and let go of yesterday’s expired solutions. There is a “new normal” that is emerging that will drive transportation innovation and perhaps set the economy on a new course. We can proactively educate ourselves on these issues and lead the new economy, or we can be global followers.
On Nov. 9 ULI San Diego will conduct its Eighth Annual Real Estate Trends Conference titled “Innovation — The New Normal.” Local and national speakers will present and explore emerging trends not only in real estate but also in government, finance, home ownership and education.
Change is occurring in land use patterns, construction technology, household formation, demographics, transit, energy use, design and technology. China is already leading the change. Rather than each of us waiting for the perfect federal legislation to head us all in one big bold direction, we must become the leaders that we are waiting for and take risks to connect to the emerging future. As Lester Thurow’s 2005 book title indicates, fortune favors the bold.