The Yardstick

The Morning Measure: “Managing Change Wisely” is what long-term planning is all about

March 29, 2011 | Tags: climate change, environment, growth, high-speed rail, planning, region forward, smart growth, transportation

Thinking long-term is something we’ve focused on a lot here at The Morning Measure (post on topics like renewable energy, spending/budget decisions, high-speed rail, and climate change are just a few examples). This focus is only natural – Region Forward is the outcome of Greater Washington 2050, a coalition of civic, political, and business leaders who got together to create shared goals and targets to improve the long-term future of the metro DC area. However, thinking long-term is also not something that is traditionally intuitive to business and political cycles, both of which largely operate on the principle of maximizing immediate returns.

RF is working to eliminate this aversion to long-term thinking on the part of the public, the business community, and politicians. That’s why it was particularly heartening to see The Washington Post columnist and University of Maryland professor Roger Lewis effectively debunk much of the common resistance to “long-termism” this past Friday.

Focusing specifically on long-range development plans, Lewis notes that one of the main reasons people are skeptical of such plans is that they force people confront a future in which significant changes have occurred and people are often adverse to change. Pointing out that “technological, demographic, economic and environmental” change is inevitable over a long time horizon, Lewis argues that “the challenge is not to stop change but to manage it wisely.” Managing change wisely is what smart growth (hence the name) and RF are all about.

When long-termism is taken seriously, the work towards meeting important but ambitious goals – like RF’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, or San Francisco’s goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, or the EU’s goal of eliminating gas-fueled cars by 2050 – can begin.