This article is part of our seven-part series on the future of cities under President-elect Trump, for which we asked experts in urban planning, city surveillance, and social reform to describe the city they imagine under the policies of the new administration.
It's a beautiful summer day in Manhattan, but no one's outside. Temperatures are well over 100 degrees, again, and most businesses just shut down during the day. Most people only go out at night these days, wading through the deepest trenches of the flooded subways in knee-high Hunter boots. It's exactly the sort of scenario that the landmark Paris Climate Agreement was trying to curb, by uniting much of the developed world in a commitment to curb carbon output and global warming.
Either way, we could be leveraging Trump's promised $1 trillion in privatized infrastructure investments, which might leverage tax incentives to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in our cities, yet this denial of the reality of climate change, coupled with Trump’s appointment of climate skeptic Myron Ebell to run the EPA and his plan to defund NASA’s Earth Science division, does not bode well for the aggressive policies needed to mitigate further environmental damage, nor the health of our cities living in that future world. And their health is greatly in danger. Half the world lives within 37 miles of our oceans and seas, and that water is likely to rise a minimum of 65 feet by 2100.
But what’s paradoxical about Trump’s stance on climate change is that it’s actually at odds with what American businesses want, and the potential success of his infrastructure plan.
"The challenge is that if the new administration is misaligned with state- and city-led commitments to resiliency and climate adaptation . . . it could have a dampening effect [on private investment]," says Stephen Engblom, senior vice president at private infrastructure conglomerate AECOM. In other words, even the private infrastructure companies ready to create jobs—to build levies, drainage, and all the other tools necessary to combat our rising seas—are unsure that there will be enough federal incentive to do so. Why? Well, the federal government seems to be playing point on these privatized infrastructure investments, and if that government doesn't believe in global warming, why would they commission anything to curb its effects? And so Trump's plan for $1 trillion in privatized investment may give us new roads and bridges, but it won't give us all of the preventative infrastructure to keep them above water over the next 50 to 100 years.
So what does a city that’s not prepared for climate change look like? It's barely livable. Extreme heat waves. Droughts. Floods to the point of washing away. It will vary by region, but inevitably affect the majority of people on the planet, since the majority of the planet is going urban—and the majority of the planet lives near the water, too.
But if there is any hope, even under the Trump administration, it's that presidents last eight years max. Even if there's no time to stop our polar ice caps from melting, at least we can prep our cities for when they do. These cities may be able to tax so much more under Trump's tax plan that they can ignore what the federal government wants, and just build what they need with their own local dollars. And cities including Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Yokohama, Japan, have both made major resiliency strides in the last decade by acknowledging the perils of climate change, and partnering with third-party businesses and organizations to prepare the city together.
Any way you cut it, the environmental future of our cities isn't rosy, but it isn't totally hopeless, either.
Read Chapter 7: The Small Town That Gets Left Behind