Despite the wealth of news across the United States touting electric vehicles, renewable energy projects, new LEED-certified and zero-energy buildings, and sustainable business practices, the hard truth is that a transformation to a sustainable United States will take a long, long time and a “sustained” effort through multiple generations of leadership. That is the lesson offered by Germany, as described in a well-written article recently appearing on the Energy Bulletin written by Ralph Buehler, Arne Jungjohann, Melissa Keeley and Michael Mehling. As they describe Germany’s success, they note that it has been a 40 year journey where “all levels of government … have retooled policies to promote growth that is more environmentally sustainable.”
There are fundamental differences between Germany and the United States that will make it harder for the U.S. to make a sustainability transformation. One major difference that comes to mind is the sheer size of the US, where it has been cheaper and easier to build outside of cities than to transform those cities into major population centers. In Central Florida where I live, residential areas are so spread out that it is currently impractical to create mass transportation solutions that could induce residents to choose them over their cars. With the planned SunRail light rail system, we may see a move in this direction. And if Florida and other states follow Germany’s lead and gradually increase taxes on fossil fuels, more and more people will drive less.
Forty years is a long time, and yet it is also not a very long time in terms of growth and transformation. Recently I have wondered whether anything can be accomplished at the national level because of the extreme political climate. But at a micro-level, that is in city, county and state governments, I am much more hopeful that progress can be made. Yesterday, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer presented his “2011 State of Downtown” address to residents and business leaders (you can watch it on YouTube) where he described several projects that could, if built, accelerate Orlando’s move to becoming a sustainable city. Dyer, long a champion of transforming Orlando, described how the current Lynx Central Station (currently Central Florida’s passenger bus hub) will also be a stop on the SunRail line, and will be located adjacent to Creative Village, a mixed use development which will be located on the former site of Orlando’s events arena. Dyer also announced that Rida Development will develop a $200 million mixed use development on the opposite side of Lynx Central Station, integrating retail, residential and green space. He also described new Lymmo routes (Lymmo is downtown Orlando’s bus rapid transit system) which also connect to the Lynx Central Station and which will further enhance the desirability of SunRail as a transportation option.
These are exciting announcements, but if we can learn anything from Germany, we have to realize that it will take multiple efforts at many levels to achieve a real transformation. And it will take time.
Dale A. Burket is a Florida attorney who is Board Certified in Real Estate by The Florida Bar. He is a partner with Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, P.A. (www.lowndes-law.com) in Orlando, Florida.