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November 7, 2008

A few years back being an expat in Rome meant living in a progressive country with a liberal government working with other European governments to improve social conditions and the environment, while across the Atlantic we watched with disdain as Bush and his cronies reversed years of civil liberties gains and spent billions of inherited surplus.  Then for a while, after last year’s election of Silvio Berlusconi and the “Liberty Coalition”,  both my home country and my adopted residence left me wondering what had become of reason.

After Barack Obama’s landslide victory the USA has once again become a beacon of hope in the world.  The question from Rome is how this beacon will illuminate a country which has been slipping farther and farther back into a new dark age. The most recent example has been the erroneously title “school reform” which is a drastic cut in the budget for public schools and universities.  Its aim is not so much to save money–there is waste in all budget categories, and salaries and benefits for members of Parliament, already the highest in Europe, have seen further increases.  The intention seems to many observers to be one of promoting ignorance, an ideal environment in which to govern corruptly and guarantee dumbed-down audiences for Berlusconi’s many television networks.  The government strategy has been to push through this law with no dialogue, ignoring the protests from half of the nation including most of the educational profession itself.  Already before Nov. 4th there was a rising grassroots movement against the Italian government’s education diktat, with millions marching in the streets throughout the country.   A similar network organization to that which got Obama elected–rich in text-messaging and blogs and facebook– is driving the popular movement to replace Berlusconi and it can only derive encouragement from the victory of the campaign for change in the US.

What does this have to do with sustainable cities? Well, Barack Obama ran on a platform heavily focused on solving the crisis of climate change.  (Just listen to his speech on energy policy.)  Now it is time for discussion of ending our dominance on petroleum to move from rhetoric to reality.  Obama won’t be doing this by himself but he has opened the door to the political/economic environment in which this will take place, thanks to entrepreneurs and organizers across the country and around the globe. Given the enormously positive reception with which Obama’s victory has been greeted in Italy, this can only be positive for the work we are doing to reshape preserve historic cities and mold their future evolution toward sustainable development.

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