When Legacies of the Past Constrain the Future

One of the biggest challenges in the sustainability arena is finding a balance between economic development and environmental protection. There is a good argument to be made that we are today paralyzed by two legacies: 1) the unfettered development legacy that helped build the bridges, dams, highways, cities and suburbs of the United States and, 2) in response to that, the regulatory legacy spawned at the height of the environmental movement in the 1970s.

The governmental labyrinth (spanning multiple state and federal agencies) that emerged as a well-meaning check on development, is now seen as overly burdensome by many planners and engineers who want to build the necessary infrastructure for the 21st century.

Is there a way to reconcile these two legacies? That’s the theme of an excellent new PBS program called, “Need to Know.” The first episode aired on Friday night and it presented two cases studies on different aspects of the economic development/environmental protection dilemma.

Watch it (transcript here). Whichever side you come down on, I think you’ll agree that the issues are treated fairly and substantively.



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