• Inspired by a European trip, former Chicago mayor Richard Daley sought to turn the Windy City into the greenest on earth, with the ambitious goal of having 6,000 green rooftops by 2020.

    Credit: Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau

    Inspired by a European trip, former Chicago mayor Richard Daley sought to turn the Windy City into the greenest on earth, with the ambitious goal of having 6,000 green rooftops by 2020.

I read recently that former Chicago mayor Richard Daley had been so inspired by the views of landscaped rooftops during a trip to Europe that he brought the concept home with a passion, quickly turning Chicago into one of the greenest-roofed cities on earth. More than 300 buildings in Chicago have landscaped roofs, and the city has an ambitious goal of 6,000 green-top buildings by 2020—all part of Daley’s Climate Action Plan, a detailed, European-inspired outline for reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

In our current political dialogue, globalism is often equated with weakling patriotism, as we look abroad for inspiration and direction. But we compete in a global environment, and, like it or not, in some areas the United States does not lead. In some areas, we are actually behind. The key to Daley’s success in Chicago was aligning himself not only with global trends in city planning, but local markets as well. The concept “think globally, act locally” has clear applications in regional planning. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research arm of the global consultancy firm McKinsey & Co., advocates that mayors can “in collaboration with the private sector ... implement a range of initiatives that have proved successful in urban settings around the world” (MGI 2011, 46).

In “Toward the Making of a Transnational Urban Policy?” published by the Journal of Planning Education and Research, the authors argue that, “A key aspect of how globalization and planning are tied together is that the traveling of planning ideas across nation-states has sped up and gained intensity.” The article highlights the rising role of policy tourism and the important function of city-networks and multilateral institutions. The paper calls attention to the work of UN-HABITAT, an international nonprofit focused on policy transfer in the field of urban planning and governance.

Given we have a long way to go toward a national consensus on climate change policy, and others across the world have done pioneering work in this direction already, the role of “policy tourism,” of observation and learning trips by mayors, municipal officers, planners, urban professionals, private consultants, and civil society groups to what the authors of this paper call the “meccas for urban regeneration,” becomes essential as a research and development tool toward planning sustainable communities, much as the study of Asian automobile plants was to reshaping the way Detroit ran production.