Insights · September 17th, 2012

This is Part 4 of Chapter 4 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on and on Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

We can do nothing to change the past, but we have enormous power to shape the future. Once we grasp that essential insight, we recognize our responsibility and capability of building our dreams for tomorrow and avoiding our nightmares.

The new wave of sustainability is strategic and opportunity driven. Knowing that and doing something about it are two different things. We can talk all day about urban agriculture and community forestry but our brains see what our brains want us to see. It likes to make things up. Our minds are complex and are often our own worst enemies when it comes to being happy.

Really. Our own brains that we know and love deceive us into thinking something is right when it is really wrong, that we’re in love when we’re not, that we’re happy when we’re really not. Recognizing and debunking the traps our mind leads us into is essential to realizing any lasting happiness. And when it comes to sustainability, our minds often try to trick us into thinking we would be happier doing nothing.

We imagine a laid back life of leisure, deceiving ourselves into thinking this kind of lifestyle makes us happy. The truth is, “chilling” can lead to idleness and that can lead to boredom and depression. We are industrious, creative beings by nature.

We need challenge and accomplishment to be happy. But the deception doesn’t stop there. The mind tricks into thinking we’ll be happy if we get the right job or the right house or the right car or whatever. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with wanting better things, but things don’t automatically make us happy. The high they create is temporary high. It wears off. Lasting happiness is a bottomless pit that can never be filled.

The mind never gives up. 24/7 it tells us lots of things are beyond our control. And the media doesn’t help matters much. The way crime and terror is sensationalized in the news can lead us to think that bad guys are everywhere, around every corner. The point is crime and terror are overrated. We can and should do something to change the world and not always fro selfish reasons.

Forty years ago, Chattanooga, Tennessee was one of the most polluted cities in the United States. Air pollution was so bad that cars had to drive with their headlights on in the middle of the day. Men who worked downtown had to bring a change of shirt to wear after going out to lunch because their shirts turned gray from walking outside mid-day. It was a harsh national indictment of a city already plagued by a faltering economy and racial tension that prompted the newly-formed EPA to do something about it. The EPA allocated literally billions of dollars to downtown redevelop the cities downtown. Thirty years to plant 10,000 trees downtown, but Chatanooga came out on top.

We have the power to shape the future. Cleveland is doing just that, embracing urban agriculture. The city has created an “urban garden district”. Land designated as part of the district can’t be rezoned for another purpose without a public hearing. That’s a huge step forward. Things can get complicated when it comes to raising farm animals in the cities. Cleveland’s code allows all livestock with one exception, cows aren’t allowed in residential neighborhoods. Even Seattle permits urban agriculture. But for that city, it’s more of a quality-of-life issue than a strategy for urban renewal.

P-Patches – neighborhood gardens – have existed in Seattle for forty years. But as cities grow in population and land coverage, urban agriculture is only part of the bigger picture. Community forests are another part of what a healthy and sustainable living future really means. At the interface between people and the built environment, community forests are already everywhere in every city; there to provide economic and social value.

You do not know what tomorrow may hold. As for America’s future, assumptions that the best days are over may turn out to be wrong. One day we may all live a new American dream; one of justice and peace and equality for all. Don’t be discouraged. Success is just around the corner for us. Colonel Sanders didn’t start franchising his KFC restaurants until he was 65, forty years after he started serving chicken at his little service station. Never let your mind trick you into giving up.

There is another chapter ahead. Keep moving forward and you will come to a chapter that will pull it all together and make sense of it all. America, the future is all up to you.

[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of, and curator of Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through]

Millennial City
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

Contact Nikolas