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From the Pentagon to the Rust Belt: a new grand strategy of sustainability

flickr user neetalparekh

The Next Idea

Mark “Puck” Mykleby is a retired Marine colonel who worked from 2009 to 2011 as an assistant to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen.

Mullen wanted a grand strategy for the nation. Not a military strategy, but something to encourage the kind of innovation and leadership he felt has been slipping away in the United States.

Mykleby left the Pentagon a little frustrated with Washington and figured he really needed to take the idea to the private sector.

He’s now at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, co-directing the Strategic Innovation Lab, and he’s come up with an idea called the Lake Erie Crescent project.

Mykleby recognized that in order to implement any grand, holistic strategy for the United States, they’d have to present a working model before Wall Street and the public could get on board.

“That’s why we looked at how could you take the idea of sustainability as an organizing logic for not only prosperity, but also security for the country,” Mykleby says. “We came up with this idea that we could take this concept, a grand strategic concept of sustainability, and play it out across the Rust Belt, in fact turn the Rust Belt into a Maker Belt.”

That’s the idea behind Lake Erie Crescent, to demonstrate how sustainability can comfortably sit at the heart of infrastructure and industry “to create a more dynamic, adaptable and effective system,” he says.

He tells us they’re looking to implement this concept in the region spanning between Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio.

Mykleby says they’ve worked a lot with Cleveland so far, and that the people are interested in the idea but don’t quite know how to look past the here and now in order to properly apply the concept.

"America needs to step in, redesign, and lead global transition to a more sustainable design."

“If we could get a 10 to 20 year horizon out there and start designing to that, that’s what’s required. And it’s just not there right now,” he says.

He hopes that once they get the model up and running in Cleveland, they will be able to bring it to more cities, eventually creating a network of sustainability throughout the Lake Erie Crescent.

So what about those people who ask, "What’s in it for me?"

Mykleby is confident the data will speak for itself.

“The economics of sustainability are really quite compelling when we start looking at emerging market forces. We don’t have these big bins of demand that we need to move out of our current economic condition. We’re trying to keep an old economic system on life support using monetary and fiscal policy, and it just doesn’t work,” Mykleby says.

He looks to the housing market for a good example of an unsustainable system. According to Mykleby, 60% of individuals looking to buy a house seek the attributes of smart growth – an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact, walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl – but only 1 to 2% of new housing startups meet that demand.

He explains that current urban planning methods rely on that sprawling design to fund transportation and infrastructure "regardless of the fact that we can’t afford the infrastructure to support that way of life anymore. Right now we’re $3.6 trillion in infrastructure [debt] alone. Eventually we’re going to have to redesign,” he says.

“America needs to step in, redesign, and lead global transition to a more sustainable design. It’s that simple. Nobody else is going to do it.”

Join the conversation in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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