$90 trillion? That's 1,100+ Bill Gates's.

$90 trillion? That's 1,100+ Bill Gates's.

Yesterday, Chuck sent me an article from Business Insider titled A plan is floating around Davos to spend $90 trillion redesigning all the cities so they don't need cars

Go big or go home.

What is sad is that these guys are so good at communication in general (see, for instance, their gorgeous report on this plan) but so BAD at communicating to the masses of people who need to be on board to make this kind of thing happen.

Here's from the article:

Part of fighting climate change will mean redesigning, or building anew, towns and cities without cars, Calderon says.

"We cannot have these cities with low density, designed for the use of cars," he said. "We recommend those cities should have more density and more mass transportation." Together with a program for reforming land use, and bringing deforestation to zero, the total cost of this plan would most likely be $90 trillion in future investment, Calderon said.

Business Insider spoke briefly with Calderon after the panel to ask him to explain where this $90 trillion was going to come from and how exactly one might persuade every city on earth to go along with it.

It turns out the $90 trillion is the total of infrastructure investment that is likely to be spent anyway building and upgrading cities. Gore and Calderon are arguing that it be spent more wisely, to produce cities that don't encourage people to burn fossil fuels just to get from A to B.

The key will be to persuade the mayors — again, all the mayors on earth — that designing new cities this way will be vastly preferable to the old way, in terms of efficiency and prosperity for their residents. "The mistake we made in Mexico was to let cities develop however they want, and it's a mess," Calderon told Business Insider. It's in the mayors' "best interests" not to repeat that "mistake," Calderon said.

What if, instead of that approach (which won't move the needle at all), the mindset was more like this:

To preserve our economic growth and quality of life while also fighting climate change, we have to fix the problems with our cities, Calderon says.

“Right now people in Houston spend 14% of their income on transportation, whereas residents in Copenhagen spend only 4%. At the same time, the residents in typical North American cities produce 7.5 tons of carbon per year getting from A to B, where the typical European produces only 0.7 tons of carbon. So the same behavior that is demanding 10% more of their personal income is also producing 10x as much pollution.”

Business insider spoke briefly with Gore and Calderon after the panel to ask them where the $90 trillion cost of this urban-overhaul was going to come from, and how exactly one might persuade every mayor on earth to go along with it.

It turns out the $90 trillion figure is what city and national governments are already expecting to spend on infrastructure maintenance and construction in the next twenty years. Gore and Calderon are arguing that the money should be spent more wisely, instead of continuing the old model.

“What if we could save people all this money, reduce cost of living by 10%? How much would that improve upward mobility, especially for lower income citizens? What if we can make our cities more beautiful, more social, and dramatically reduce pollution at the same time? That’s what we know is possible, that’s what we’re reaching out to mayors to get on board.”

The key will be to persuade mayors — again, all the mayors on earth — that designing new cities this way will be vastly preferable to the old way, in terms of efficiency and prosperity for their residents.

“The mistake we made in the US was in the 1940’s and 1950’s, going all-in on the suburban city idea, where everything you do, you must drive to get there. We threw away the old way of building cities, the tradition that developed naturally over thousands of years, and we didn’t know at the time all the unintended harmful side effects that would cause. And unfortunately, most of the cities around the world since have largely followed the US example,” Gore told Business Insider. Its in the mayors best interest to take a hard look at how things are going, and consider how their citizens best interest could be served by beginning to undo that mistake.

“The great thing is we have a long list of easy and small things cities can do right away,” Calderon said. “We’d love to see people embrace this new paradigm, which is really just a return to the traditional way of building cities for people instead of building them exclusively for cars. But we understand people will be skeptical, we just hope they’ll start reconsidering their current patterns, and start testing out these new ideas in their own cities as soon as possible.” That way they can see the results for themselves, and when they do, Gore said, he believes they’ll never look back.

Understand that the difference here is more than optics. It is more than just a repackaging of worn ideas to give them a Strong Towns veneer. While the goal is very similar, the difference between these two ways of telling this story is the latter's embrace of a completely different system -- a chaotic but smart approach -- that empowers individuals, blocks and neighborhoods, all while setting up independent (non-centralized) systems that emphasize good market feedback. 

There's a reason why you don't hear a lot of Strong Towns language out of Davos, and it's not because we share divergent goals, at least rhetorically.