Originally Published M the Media Project 'Essays from An Artist' February 19, 2021
Can a set of solutions to our climate change problem also take into account an improvement to economic equality? Can local projects that contribute to the aggregate approach to climate change present opportunities for a broader swath of the public to partake meaningfully in the new economy to come? I insist the answer is yes. We can survive, in fact thrive if we coalesce around this most existential of issues presented to us as a species. Let’s get Massachusetts specific. Any means for addressing directly the impacts of climate change must take into account issues of transportation, energy consumption, housing and patterns of human habitation. Then consider the financial mechanisms that facilitate real world solutions to these issues. Since we’ve created an economy based on the extraction of labor from one place to another, namely the concentration of economic activity within the metro-Boston landscape, we’ve produced significant pressure on transportation infrastructure. It’s also had an impact on local economies. It has hollowed out the cites and towns large and small in central and western Massachusetts. During any given workday in north central Mass, the region sees a net loss of 39,700 professional class people who spend their hours commuting to Boston or points east, not eating lunch in local restaurants, not engaging fully in the social fabric of the municipalities they call home. To de-centralize this geographic labor phenomenon would bring much-needed economic activity back to Worcester county and points west. The added benefit in the increase in productivity that is sure to come with the elimination of 4 or more hours of commuting from people’s daily routine will likely be staggering. We know this permanent de-centralization will have a benefit to our climate change policy. The pandemic has shown us what can happen when significant numbers of daily commuters are no longer on the road five or more days weekly, a drastic reduction in our carbon footprint a further benefit to society and getting us substantially closer to meeting the state’s goals. This fundamental shift requires change in the investment in ourselves. Digital infrastructure: A meaningful amount of highway or other heavy infrastructure funding must be re-allocated to ensure that all 351 cities and towns have access to robust, reliable digital capacity for work and pleasure. This includes public amenities like increasing digital access at public libraries, co-working environments and other public schools. Increased access must include access for all. Hub/spoke co-working: The changing landscape of both education service delivery at the collegiate and post-collegiate levels coupled with a de-centralized workforce will create new opportunities throughout the Commonwealth for co-working environments including robust professional development and concierge services paid for by corporations such as child care and personal services. Home-bound workers will still require a third-party space regularly. This could have a dramatic effect in some previously hollowed-out downtowns where we can now mix robust office environments and professional development services with retail and service ‘downtown’ small business, now made more vibrant because people are living and working downtown again. Such revitalized space should also contain various business incubators and makerspace, co-working environments, etc. to meet local priorities while operating as vital small businesses in and of themselves. Funding schemes, whether voluntary in the marketplace or through taxation could be utilized.
Public transportation: A transportation program that focuses on robust regional train and bus service, bridging the gaps or ‘final mile’ challenges from depot to final destination; making investments in our existing central footprints to optimize bike-ability and walkability, increasing residential amenities for young and old alike in said footprints. All of these changes will create more robust and localized economic opportunities while reducing our carbon footprint and making life more affordable for more people. How do we pay for it all? Some would have the current TCI bill at the state house founded by those who drive the most in the form of the gas tax. At first blush this seems fair, but those who are forced to make that daily commute whether they like it or not did not create the lop-sided patterns of habitation we’re boxed into currently. Some would have the wealthiest among us see sizable but sustainable increases to their taxes. After all, it can be said they are the luckiest of the recipients of the current economic landscape. The people of central and western MA cannot be punished for an economy they simply participate in. However, it is incumbent on all of us to invest a share into this new economy that will have multiple benefits for all of us. Potentially funds might be sourced from the corporate entities who insist on returning to the old model of centralized employment locations. In short, the largest employers representing the highest number of commuters pay the most into addressing our climate change goals as they relate to transportation and/or other important tenants of our climate changes policy moving forward.