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Building a Better Future: Imagining Zero-carbon Solutions

This is the second part of a series about the ways we can redesign our cities to solve the climate crisis. Read the previous entry, "Building...

This is the second part of a series about the ways we can redesign our cities to solve the climate crisis. Read the previous entry, "Building a Better Future: A Crash Course on Climate Change."

How to Make Your City Better

Here's the rub: those cities (read the previous entry), by and large, don't exist yet, except in bits and pieces, best practices, and good examples. If we're going to live those awesome lives in those carbon-neutral cities, we're going to have to build them first.

The bad news is that there isn't a template. We can't make a cookie-cutter set of solutions that will work everywhere-each city is too different in its history, climate, people, and politics.

What we can do it start to imagine a variety of different paths to the same goal. And that brings us to the good news: not only are climate-safe cities possible, they're something you, yourself, can begin to envision and actually start to build.

See, cities are the right scale for changing things. Bold individual actions, like giving up meat or going car-free, are terrific; but it's hard to make much of a difference one person at a time, when we have to change everything in the next two decades. On the other hand, while national and international action is critical, it's also something most of us can only play a small role in realizing.

Cities, though, are different. City governments control big systems, like power and water utilities. They plan the way neighborhoods are built. City-level institutions-from universities to churches, community groups to professional associations-have the power to change things that matter, quickly. And the public debate, even in very large cities, is something in which any of us can participate. Cities are big enough to matter, and small enough to move forward.

The most important engine for moving any city forward, though, is its vision of itself. Change how your city sees itself, and the bricks and pipes and wires and buildings will follow. The way you change how your city sees itself, is by changing how you see it, and sharing your vision with others.

So the first step in this whole huge process, of changing your city, and redefining prosperity, and sharing that prosperity with everyone else on the planet in time to stop the ice caps from melting; this whole huge process begins with you.

Want to build your own vision of the future by dreaming up a city that can win the climate fight? Start with these eight sets of questions:

Alex Steffen is the executive editor and CEO of WorldChanging. Read the first entry in this series here. Illustration by Jennifer Daniel.

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