Ask someone about the New Deal, and what do they think of?

If they had a good history teacher, they can probably make a lot of connections: FDR, banking reform, the Works Progress Administration putting people to work, conservation projects in our National Parks, and big pieces of infrastructure like the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

But would they think of the San Antonio River Walk?

The New Deal wasn’t just about financial reform and jobs programs. It helped build walkable urban spaces like the San Antonio River Walk. (Mark Bonica/Creative Commons)

Yep, one of America’s great urban riverwalks is a child of the New Deal, a WPA conservation project that remains a major attraction in America’s 7th-most-populous city.

The River Walk a beautiful, almost magical urban oasis deep in the heart of Texas.

And it’s the kind of place we should keep in mind as we form the Green New Deal, a 21st-century moonshot to decarbonize our nation in the progressive spirit of FDR’s New Deal.

Altruism, engage!

But even supporters of the Green New Deal must admit that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s team duffed the rollout. The communiqué that included poorly-written references to helping people “unwilling to work” and building rail projects “at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary” were catnip for right-wing attacks.

Yes, FOX News Republicans were going to tear into the resolution anyway. But the rookie mistakes by Team AOC made the job that much easier.

On the whole, the Green New Deal has the right idea, in that it recognizes:

1. The U.S. must address climate change on the scale of an economic depression or a world war.

2. We must re-work our economy to give all communities a fighting chance in the 21st century.

3. Addressing 1 and 2 can (and should!) be done in tandem.

But the Green New Deal needs to be communicated better. And it needs to show Americans that climate-change solutions can be fun.

Yes, fun. I’m sorry, the period makes it all seem too serious. What I mean is: Fun!

Paris Plages
The Paris-Plages (or Paris Beaches) are an example of how shifting roads from cars to people can be fun! (Peter Haas/Creative Commons)

Much of the climate-change narrative focuses on fear, and rightly so. If global temperatures keep rising, horrific tragedies will result (one headline that’ll grab you: 7 American cities that could disappear by 2100).

While the effects of climate change can (and should) induce dread, our solutions for cutting carbon usage can be dope as hell!

Our biggest opportunity for making awesome changes is in the transportation sector, which recently surpassed electric power as America’s worst greenhouse-gas emitter.

The Green New Deal ought to take dead-aim at the car-based malaise of ~ 2020 America (real-life driving is rarely as fun as the car commercials make it seem) and demonstrate that the alternatives are more fun.

OUT:

  • Sitting on a congested highway because driving the only feasible way to get somewhere
  • Paying hundreds of dollars for a car, paying even more for insurance, paying even more for gas and parking
  • Being forced to drive for every little errand because nothing is in walking distance
  • Motor vehicles being the No. 1 killer of American kids

How It Works!

How Do-Goodery Works

IN:

  • Having lots of options for moving around your city: trains, electric buses, biking, walking, scootering, skateboarding, and let’s say, boats!
  • Contributing to the local economy by spending money at neighborhood shops, instead of your income going straight to your car
  • Enjoying a more vibrant street atmosphere, whether you’re walking home from work, celebrating a block party, or partying at a huge festival like Mardi Gras
  • Drawing Americans out of cars and onto sidewalks, so our way of getting around can make us a little healthier

Isn’t this why Americans spend thousands of dollars to vacation in Europe? Beyond the sightseeing and murals, a Rick Steves devotee like me will tell you the best part of traveling is enjoying Paris’ cafe culture, walking across London’s bridges and through its royal parks, reveling in the beer gardens of Munich, and soaking up the atmosphere of Italian piazzas.

Milan, Italy
People travel from all around the world to walk around the shops and piazzas of Milan. (Steffen Schmitz/Creative Commons)

The American effort to thwart climate change will be sweeping, from the energy we use inside our homes to regulating the air we breathe outside.

But changing the status quo doesn’t need to be scary. It’s an opportunity! It’s a new slate! It’s fun!

Instead of McMansions and congested highways, we can retrofit our cities and inner-ring suburbs to be more walkable and desirable places.

It’s our chance to create more places like the San Antonio River Walk.

America has an estimated 800 million parking spaces for a population around 327 million, and enough combined parking and roadway space to cover the state of West Virginia in asphalt.

Here’s a fun way to start thinking about America’s climate future: If we took just half of that space, currently devoted to private car storage, what could we accomplish?