SEARCH OF A NEW WAY
the Spring of 2007, enveloped in an increasing flood of
information about global warming and a potential
meltdown of the earth itself, 18 students at Sciences-Po
in Paris got together to brainstorm in search of a new
paradigm that could reverse the ominous degradation of
our world but at the same time improve our quality of
students come from various European countries, mainly
France but also Germany and Denmark. Among them were
some who had lived or traveled in the USA, Australia and
England, and several in the group had done volunteer
work in so-called developing countries of the “south”.
approached the subject by studying the Smart Growth
movement in the USA, holding on to what has worked well,
and then trying to fix what has not produced the best
possible results. I suggested three guidelines for our
work at the outset of the course:
search for alternatives to the icon of Growth.
First, I noted that “growth” is repeated ad infinitum in
other university classes so this would be a rare chance
to consider alternatives. We stipulated that the
economic growth model as we know it has failed the
majority of the earth’s population, not only
environmentally but economically. For every $100 of
economic growth, only 66 cents actually leads to the
alleviation of poverty.
Quality of life as a motivation, rather than fear.
Second, we decided that even if the potential of
global catastrophe is an entirely legitimate concern,
saving the environment cannot be a question of sacrifice
based on fear. Rather, it needs to be linked to an
improvement in quality of life.
Exclude sectarian politics.
and last, we decided that we should steer clear of
partisan politics or sectarian stances. We felt from
the get-go that even if a majority of environmentalists
seem to come from the left, many of the smart growth
principles are certainly embraced by citizens on the
right, while the “developmentalist” left seems to be in
conflict with many environmental principles. In order to
emphasize this point, I showed the students an article
about the catastrophe of single-use zoning (separation
of residence from commerce) and sprawl from an American
magazine on the libertarian right.
Though we did draw up these guidelines, we decided to
not box ourselves into any one notion, and we were
willing to think the unthinkable and look into the
possibility of sustainable degrowth, from Ivan Illich
through Serge Latouche, considering that a contracting
economy in developed countries might be best for
everyone if the degrowth were targeted to the most
three points seem simple enough but it took us many
lively exploratory debates in order to decide on our
ultimate areas of focus. The following essays included
in this work in progress begin with basic principles and
then extend to more specific approaches and solutions.
The participants were encouraged to think a lot, do as
much research as possible but then to write as concisely
as possible, with the idea that sometimes less can give
Smart growth advocates in the USA might benefit from the
different nuances that come from European perspectives,
while opponents of smart growth might do well to
consider the opinions of students and scholars who are
not part of the American political landscape.
final note of applause for the contributors to this
collection: they are not writing in their language of
birth, but I would wager that they would perform
magnificently in an English language work setting.