Magazine article The Futurist

Restorative Development

Magazine article The Futurist

Restorative Development

Article excerpt

Economic growth without destruction; Decontaminating lands, restoring ecosystems, and refurbishing old buildings are just the start of a new, booming economic sector that policy makers, business leaders, and environmentalists can all support.

At last, some good economic news: There's a mushrooming new global economic sector that already exceeds a trillion dollars per year--and even restores natural resources. It's called restorative development, defined as socioeconomic revitalization based on the restoration of our natural and built environments. And it will dramatically reshape our economies, communities, and environments throughout the twenty-first century.

Turning an old-growth forest into a farm, or demolishing a historic building for a shopping mall, is the kind of development we're most familiar with: new development. Decontaminating abandoned industrial property and turning old factories into apartments and stores is another kind of development, one that builds without destroying: restorative development. Returning a distressed old farm to productivity by rebuilding topsoil, removing accumulated salts, and restoring surrounding watersheds is another example of restorative development.

Nations around the globe have accumulated backlogs of needed restoration projects worth trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, hundreds of billions of dollars of new restoration needs are added annually, creating perhaps the largest new growth sector of the world economy. What's more, most of the other so-called "new economies," such as hydrogen, biotech, nanotech, and digital, are either a direct outgrowth of the restoration economy, or will find their greatest markets in restorative development.

Restoration Industries

Our current restoration economy comprises eight industries. Four involve the natural environment: ecosystem restoration, fisheries restoration, watershed restoration, and agricultural restoration/rural development. The other four industries, which restore the built environment, are:

* Brownfields remediation and redevelopment. Brownfields are lands that are not being used productively as a result of real or perceived contamination. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Initiative has awarded more than $140 million in nationwide grants to help communities clean up abandoned, lightly contaminated sites and restore them to productive community use. For example, in Concord, New Hampshire, officials are working to identify contamination in a 440-acre (178-hectare) industrial corridor and develop a remediation and redevelopment plan with the potential to create more than 2,500 new jobs--or 8% of the city's total unemployment.

* Infrastructure refurbishment and reconstruction. This aspect of restorative development deals with the flows that connect our built environment: power, sewerage, traffic, water, even garbage. One major infrastructure refurbishment project is the London Underground with an estimated budget of $42 million ([pounds sterling]27 million).

Heritage restoration. A community's physical heritage comprises aspects of the built environment that lasted long enough to be a source of community attachment--or where an event occurred that the community considers intrinsic to its identity. Heritage can also be environmental (fisheries) or cultural (indigenous languages).

* Disaster/war restoration and rebuilding. Three categories of disasters make up this restoration industry: war, manmade disasters (such as oil spills, nuclear power accidents, and even mudslides due to deforestation), and natural disasters (such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes). The cost of rebuilding wartorn Afghanistan is estimated at $15 billion. The cost of restoring worldwide disasters is roughly $52 billion per year.

Some of these industries, such as disaster and war restoration, have been around for millennia. Others, such as brownfields restoration, just appeared in the past decade. …

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