Downtown Anchorage. Photo: Luke Jones
The Arctic Melt is a three-part analysis of the Arctic Human Development Report II: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Developed over a ten-year period, the study assesses the state of Arctic human development and highlights major regional changes. Its findings will be important in informing the decisions and policies of the upcoming US Arctic Council Chairmanship.
In the context of Alaska, this series will take an in-depth look at three of the key trends underscored by the Report: globalization, urbanization, and demographic shifts. On Monday, Part I: Investing in Place will explore how we create livable, localized places in a globalized north. On Wednesday, Part II: Investing in Innovation will consider the opportunities of urbanization for entrepreneurship and economic ingenuity. On Friday, Part III: Investing in Communities will conclude the discussion by looking at ways to sustainably connect the growing young and old sectors of Alaska’s population.
Taken together, these three trends provide a chance to redefine how we conceptualize, and realize, Arctic investment – a chance to turn economic growth into human development.
Part I: Investing In Place
Today more than ever before, the circumpolar region is integrated into the international system.1)E. Carina, H. Keskitalo, and Chris Southcott. “Chapter 10 Globalization,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl. Although the North has always been connected to the rest of the world through trade networks and migratory routes, globalization and climate change have created unprecedented connectivity through communication systems, global markets, and environmental cooperation.
But the Arctic is not just connected globally – it has quickly moved from the periphery to the world’s center stage.
Flag plantings on the ocean floor, shipping prospects for financial prosperity, and images of polar bears on icebergs are just a few narratives that collectively construct the Polar Vortex craze that’s consuming media, politicians, businessmen, and the global public alike.
With such linkages facilitating a marketable awareness of the Arctic through science and geopolitics, it is easy to forget that globalization is a two-way street. While the south may still visualize the Arctic as the last, albeit melting, frontier, the northern environment and its people are very much a part of, and influenced by, the international economic, political, and cultural developments of today.
For the past decade, globalization has been transforming the social and political milieus of the Arctic as much as climate change has changed its physical landscapes – if not more so. The second Arctic Human Development Report reaffirms that the combination of rapid and stressful changes highlighted in the first study ten years ago continue today, amplified in both rate and magnitude. It finds that the societal and environmental changes brought about by globalization and global climate change challenge the wellbeing of Arctic residents, local communities, and many northern socioeconomic sectors.2)E. Carina, H. Keskitalo, and Chris Southcott. “Chapter 10 Globalization,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl.
Globalization brings complex, multifaceted challenges to human development in the Arctic; but it also provides an opportunity for policymakers to retool globalization’s effects to benefit communities in Alaska. Harnessing the political, economic, and social benefits of globalization can help build sustainable, locally oriented built infrastructure for the Arctic of the 21st Century.
Globalization from the Top of the World
In many ways, the effects of globalization are no different for the Arctic than they are for the rest of the globe. Economically, globalization has internationalized the decision-making for resource development. Extractive companies are increasingly multinational and operate according to the world’s demand for and cost of producing and moving Arctic resources. This translates to the transfer of primary concerns away from places in the north to international headquarters and markets.
While economic globalization provides an opportunity to break the internal colonialist processes of 20th Century extractive activities, the increased mobility and privatization of capital also makes it difficult for governments to tax, support a welfare state, and protect the environment. Companies are too often interested in meeting the market test – expected revenues must exceed expected costs – without investing in long-term development.3)Lee Husky, Ilmo Mӓenpӓӓ, and Alexander Pelyasov. “Chapter 4 Economic Systems,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl.
Despite the economic buzz surrounding an ice-free Arctic, the Arctic Human Development Report emphasizes that the region’s harsh climate conditions, its sparse population, and the remoteness of deposits from centers of consumption, production, and decision-making will continue to drive production costs up.4)Lee Husky, Ilmo Mӓenpӓӓ, and Alexander Pelyasov. “Chapter 4 Economic Systems,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl. Beyond these conditions, the uncertainty in petroleum commodity prices from new unconventional oil production, a pending global climate change deal in Paris later this year, and the net costs of climate-induced storm surges and shoreline erosion also contribute to high costs of doing business in the north.
Globalized resource production and consumption will continue to be economically important in the Arctic. However, the worldwide volatility of petroleum prices, international climate treaties, and the negative consequences of global environmental shifts have created a space to rethink the northern economy.
These globalized trends that hinder investments in the large-scale, short-term infrastructure of extractive industry provide the chance to redefine Arctic development. Redefining what successful development means requires a new matrix of infrastructure investment that prioritizes employment diversification, the maintenance of social services at the local level, and the strength of small-scale design that support a healthy, inclusive Alaskan society.
Beyond Profit: The Internationalization of Place and People
In order to move investment away from creating extractive settlements and into investing in places of vibrant, livable communities, Alaska should take advantage of the positive socio-political effects of globalization. Politically, globalization has divested the power of state governments both upwards and downwards. The events of the 1990s established the Arctic as an international space, where regional and sub-national actors became important players in international relations. The Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council are products of the post-Cold War processes of fostering cooperation across East-West lines that empowered local actors.5)E. Carina, H. Keskitalo, and Chris Southcott. “Chapter 10 Globalization,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl. Today, the Arctic’s international links have moved beyond its immediate neighbors to countries like Singapore and South Korea. The communications revolution has enabled the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and practices from the North Pole to the Southern Hemisphere. Prior to this revolution, Alaskan communities only had easy access to design concepts, policy ideas, and infrastructure plans from their own governments and companies active in the Arctic. Now, with the advent of virtual and telecommunication, Alaskans can share, adapt, and build off of policy models and build best practices from a much larger, more international pool of thinkers and practitioners.
Conversely, there has also been devolution of power to local authority through political decentralization.6)E. Carina, H. Keskitalo, and Chris Southcott. “Chapter 10 Globalization,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl. This transfer of authority to empower localities not only endows local governments and political leaders in policy making for their own communities – it also emboldens the voices of community members themselves. Being closer to decision makers empowers the opinions and choices of societal subgroups with different needs informed by gender, class, age, and heritage.
This is particularly important given globalization’s cultural impacts. With increased migration from the south, and internal migration within Alaska from rural to urban areas, come increased interactions amongst people with varied experiences, cultures, and identities. Day to day living in a globalized Arctic, much like daily life in New York or London, is comprised of countless cultural negotiations and contestations that culminate in a new definition of what it means to be “a Northerner.”
By accessing global communication and information sharing systems to support local development, capitalizing on political decentralization to include all stakeholders, and tapping into the rich cultural and social positives of globalization, Alaska can create local infrastructure that is both resilient to the economic challenges of globalization the Human Development Report emphasizes and supportive of its advantages.
Building a Smarter Arctic
Originally, most Arctic settlements based on Euro-American colonialism and capitalism were built as extractive communities rather than places to live.7)Rasmus Ole Rasmussen, Grete K. Hovelsrud, and Shari Gearheard. “Chapter 11 Community Viability and Adaptation,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl. Their vitality was dependent on local resource extraction and their creation as small, remote settlements were based on where the highest concentration of these commercialized sea and land resources could be found.
Globalization processes political centralization and market volatility from more competitively priced natural resource production southward have created a space to redefine Arctic settlements into livable communities independent of the extraction of a single resource. However, while there have been a number of initiatives aimed at building community through arts festivals, community centers, and civic programming, the built environment that serves as the site for negotiating communal sustainability and viability has been overlooked.
Complete Streets for Skiing and Dog Sleds
The Arctic is not alone in this transition from investing in companies towards investing in place. The American Planning Association, a national organization that brings planners, citizens, and elected official together by providing leadership in the development of vital communities, conducted a national poll in 2014 on community preferences. Sixty-five percent of respondents believed that investing in schools, public transportation networks, and walkable neighborhoods was a better way to grow the economy than investing in business-oriented infrastructure. APA Executive Director Paul Farmer noted at the report’s press release, “If there is a single message from this poll, it’s that place matters.”8)American Planning Association, “Investing in Place: Two Generation’s View on the Future of Communities.” www.planning.org/policy/polls/investing/
The lower 48 have development new planning strategies that create a built environment where place matters and resilient communities are built. Alaska is just beginning to adopt these design principles and adapt them to its particular geography. In early 2014 Senator Mark Begich introduced the Safe Streets Act, a national act from 2004 that requires states and regions to adopt Complete Streets policies for federal transportation project funding.  Complete streets are roadways designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. In the Arctic, this also means building streets that are inclusive of cross country skiers, dog sledders, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles.
Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau have already begun to adopt Complete Street models to provide safer, multimodal transportation networks that reflect Alaska’s unique local demands of geography and climate. Fairbanks, for example, is replacing traffic signals with modern roundabouts, which cut congestion, emissions, and crashes while moving traffic more smoothly.9)National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America, “The Last Frontier: Complete Streets in Alaska.” www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/alaska-complete-streets.pdf Anchorage has hired several staff members to the city’s transportation office to work specifically on conceptualizing and building non-motorized transportation pathways. Widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes, and reducing motorized lane widths on key downtown arterials to slow speeds down all enable safer, healthier transportation options for commuters, students, and community members.
Supporting complete street infrastructure has helped Alaska to become the top states in the nation in the proportion of people who walk or bike to work and top per capita funding for non-motorized transportation infrastructure in the last year. While both of these statistics are in part facilitated by Alaska’s low population, they still speak to the influence complete streets have on citizen’s transport choices, their perceived sense of safety, and the state’s commitment to investing in place.
Adapting Smart Growth to Alaska
However, in order to truly invest in place and take advantage of globalization Alaska must reach beyond pedestrian and bicycle friendly roads in its three major cities. Investing in smart growth infrastructure in both urban and rural communities, adapted to the Arctic’s climate and geography, build off of the current success of complete streets.
Smart growth is a type of community planning that encourages compact, walkable, and transit-oriented development. It focuses on sustainability and creating a unique sense of place through expanding the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices; promote public health, and preserve and enhance local identity and culture.10)National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America, “The Last Frontier: Complete Streets in Alaska.” www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/alaska-complete-streets.pdf Through policy regulations like zoning ordinances, local growth boundaries, shared development rights, and environmental assessments, smart growth increases family income and wealth; provides safe walking routes for children; stimulates economic activity; and fosters livable, healthy places for diverse communities.11)Smart Growth America, www.smartgrowthamerica.org/what-is-smart-growth
Kiruna, a small city in Sweden’s North, has incorporated a number of smart growth elements into its new design. The city is in the beginning stages of moving its entire built-infrastructure and population eastward several kilometers over the next 100 years to allow the nearby iron mine to continue operations. The new plan, designed by Swedish firm White, aims to rebuild a denser, more economic diversified city that can exist independent of its namesake mine. All new development will be oriented around a compactly built central town hall square surrounded by narrow streets.12)Feargus O’Sullivan, nextcity.org/features/view/the-city-that-is-moving-9-kilometers-down-the-road
Vastly different than its sprawling neighborhoods today, these streets, designed to protect pedestrians from wind and encourage walking, will be filled with shops and cafes. Residences, converted into mainly apartments instead of single-family homes, won’t be further than three blocks from a central green space built for cross-country skiing and tobogganing. Although the new plan incorporates many energy efficient building codes, the new Kiruna will go a step further to harness the excess heat created from the mine to power and heat the town. Beyond the physical infrastructure, Kiruna’s smart growth planning is mindful of all residents and values a diverse set of viewpoints. The relocation team includes executives of the mining company, locally elected representatives, urban planners, residents, and anthropologists.13)Feargus O’Sullivan, nextcity.org/features/view/the-city-that-is-moving-9-kilometers-down-the-road Such a multidisciplinary approach ensures that the result is an inclusive, identity-rich community.
Smart growth does not just apply to cities. An increasing share of planning research focuses on the application of compact design and mixed land use patterns to rural and small towns. Small, cold-weather communities like Howard, South Dakota, small towns along US Route 1 in Maine, and Winooski, Vermont have all won national awards for adapting smart growth principles to sparsely populated areas.14)US Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/sg_rural.htm Creating mixed use, green complexes as town centers, recycling temporary housing from once-mined areas into new compact neighborhoods, and developing sustainable regional transport plans are just a few examples of rural smart growth adaptations. An innovative Alaskan application of smart growth could come from including their principles in the planning process of towns relocated by climate change like Newtok or Shishmaref.
In addition to complete streets and the long-range regional considerations of sustainably, smart growth also advocates for mixed-use development and neighborhood schools, which will be respectively examined in Parts II and III. Each piece in the series, when woven together, creates a robust picture for sustainable investment and development that serves the economy, the community, and the environment.
Harnessing the Power Information Sharing Systems
Many of the principles above have already been implemented south of the Arctic Circle. While some will need to be adapted to Arctic-specific contexts, much of the planning foundational pillars and practices will remain the same. Arctic communities should take advantage of globalization’s communication and information sharing systems. Best practice sharing and collective brainstorming between successful communities and those in Alaska just beginning their investments in smart growth can provide much needed technical assistance.
C40 Climate Leadership Group, a 63-city network that aims to ‘implement meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that will help address climate change globally,’ is one just one example of an already existing platform for best-practice sharing.15)C40, c40.org The network sees itself as an effective forum where cities can collaborate, share knowledge, and drive meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action. It does this by breaking the larger group down into smaller networks built on commonly identities opportunities, interests, and priorities. Staff at C40 help to facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges of knowledge, support, and novel ideas in developing policies, programs, or projects connected to the groups theme. Projects like the Waterfront of Toronto, which is building mixed-use communities in the naturalized and flood-protected mouth of the Don River, and the South Waterfront District project in Portland, which intends to turn the city’s larger underdeveloped industrial site into a mixed use public area with parks, plazas, and river access, use the Delta Cities themed network to share ideas and give advice across borders on these two positive development projects.16)C40, Deltacities.com
The durability of new practices can be reinforced by visits to successful communities by Alaskan planners and policymakers. For example, when Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald prioritized bus rapid transit for the city of Pittsburgh, they took a cohort of business leaders, advocates, city staff, and other stakeholders to Cleveland to learn about the success of that city’s HealthLine bus rapid transit project.17)Merrill Stabile, www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2015/01/18/Let-s-move-forward-with-Bus-Rapid-Transit-in-Pittsburgh/stories/201501180063 Stakeholders often credit study tours for opening up their horizons to find solutions to their local obstacles.
Redefining the DEW Line for the 21st Century
Despite meaningful moves away from colonial policies, the globalized narrative of the North is still an extractive one. Political rhetoric, business forecasts, and climate science all measure the Arctic’s significance in terms of benefits for the rest of the world. Because of its ecological vulnerability, the region is often called the canary in the coalmine for climate change. What happens in the Arctic in the years to come will be an early indicator of the future environmental changes for the rest of the Earth.
What’s more, climate change consequences like rising sea levels that are deemed unacceptable for the developed south are not only tolerated in the Arctic, but capitalized on. Anticipated open waters from climate change have prompted countries to highlight the importance of their national Arctic territory for mineral development, shipping routes, and energy security for economic growth.
Rather than concentrate global attention on what can be extracted from a melting Arctic, the international community should focus on the new avenues globalization has created for investment in and knowledge exchange with Alaska. Unstable markets and high cost of production provide policymakers in Juneau and US the chance to reformulate how decisions on infrastructure investment are made – the chance to invest in livable, sustainable places rather than resource rush settlements.
Investing in complete streets and smart growth principles are one key way to take advantage of that opportunity. It capitalizes on globalization’s decentralization of political power; utilizes today’s international communication and information systems; and supports the rich, diverse cultural perspectives of Arctic residents. Smart growth provides the physical infrastructure to increase productivity and innovation. to develop a thriving local economy, and to take advantage of access to global markets. On Wednesday, Part II will build off of the physical infrastructure detailed here by exploring how to create policy and institutional infrastructure that works in tandem with Alaska’s built environment to encourage a diversified economy.
In a way, the Arctic is inevitably the world’s distant early warning line for climate change. The North Pole, along with other geographies like small island nations in the Pacific, will be the first and potentially hardest hit by ecological shifts and weather pattern variations. But unlike the original Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, national and international policymakers today must think beyond constructing expensive, isolated stations that provide little to Arctic peoples but security to the lower 48. Investing in place means moving beyond the dominating narratives of an extractive Arctic globalization from a southern perspective. Investing in pace means investing in local infrastructure that foster economically, environmentally, and culturally thriving communities for the ‘northerners of the 21st Century’ that live there.
References [ + ]
|1, 2, 5, 6.||↑||E. Carina, H. Keskitalo, and Chris Southcott. “Chapter 10 Globalization,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl.|
|3, 4.||↑||Lee Husky, Ilmo Mӓenpӓӓ, and Alexander Pelyasov. “Chapter 4 Economic Systems,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl.|
|7.||↑||Rasmus Ole Rasmussen, Grete K. Hovelsrud, and Shari Gearheard. “Chapter 11 Community Viability and Adaptation,” Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Edited by Yoan Nymand Larsen and Gail Fondahl.|
|8.||↑||American Planning Association, “Investing in Place: Two Generation’s View on the Future of Communities.” www.planning.org/policy/polls/investing/|
|9, 10.||↑||National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America, “The Last Frontier: Complete Streets in Alaska.” www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/alaska-complete-streets.pdf|
|11.||↑||Smart Growth America, www.smartgrowthamerica.org/what-is-smart-growth|
|12, 13.||↑||Feargus O’Sullivan, nextcity.org/features/view/the-city-that-is-moving-9-kilometers-down-the-road|
|14.||↑||US Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/sg_rural.htm|
|17.||↑||Merrill Stabile, www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2015/01/18/Let-s-move-forward-with-Bus-Rapid-Transit-in-Pittsburgh/stories/201501180063|