WHAT IS THE REALISTIC FUTURE OF GREEN MANUFACTURING WHEN YOU HAVE A SITUATION LIKE THE RECENT BANKRUPTCY FIASCO WITH GOVERNMENT-SUBSIDIZED SOLAR-PANEL COMPANY SOLYNDRA? You ask any investment banker, hedge-fund manager, or venture capitalist about venture capitalism, and they assume that a good number of their investments will fail, that the nature of the market is such that you learn and you lose. And ultimately, there will be winners that you can make a lot of money off of, but part of the investment involves investing in losing propositions and seeing the technology development and where it will go. Whenever government dollars are involved, suddenly fledgling industries are held to a much higher standard, and that's not fair.
Part of the trouble for us and part of the trouble for people who care about their cities and who are in a position of responsibility for their caretaking and development — public officials — is that we don't have a national industrial policy in this country. We act as though everything should proceed along free-market principles, when in fact we have historically favored some industries over others in the name of economic development, for better or for worse, beginning with the Erie Canal. And today we are still subsidizing the oil industry and the natural-gas industry and, more recently, the corn ethanol industry. But we don't have a national industrial policy that gives shape and direction and market signals as to which industries we are going to favor and promote. Especially the green industry.
YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT FARMING IN URBAN AREAS, BUT MANY OF US DON'T WANT TO LIVE NEXT TO FARMS — WITH THEIR OWN PARTICULAR SMELLS AND NOISES — WHICH IS ONE OF THE REASONS WE CHOOSE TO LIVE IN CITIES. IS THERE SOME OTHER WAY THAT WE CAN SURVIVE OTHER THAN HAVING MANURE-BASED AGRICULTURE — NOT TO MENTION COWS AND CHICKENS AND PIGS — LIVING NEXT DOOR? Urban farming plays out differently in large, densely populated cities like New York, which always seems to be the model for all-things-urban. In places like Flint or Rochester — or, for that matter, Detroit or Cleveland — which have lost as much as half their populations and have tons of open urban land to prove it, urban agriculture can play a vital role in stabilizing ghostly neighborhoods and stemming blight. It also provides nutritious food for people struggling with poverty and living in "food deserts" — places without access to grocery stores. It's a good way of using vacant urban land and, hopefully, a transitional one. That said, I'm more concerned in the long run with preserving farmland from sprawl and keeping barnyard smells confined to farms — rural farms.
ME AND MOST OF MY FRIENDS WANTED NOTHING MORE THAN TO GET AWAY FROM THE SMALL CITIES WE GREW UP IN. I'M FROM WOONSOCKET, RHODE ISLAND, WHICH IS VERY MUCH THE KIND OF PLACE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT: A SMALL NEW ENGLAND MILL CITY OF 50,000 THAT WAS DISEMBOWELED WHEN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY LITERALLY WENT SOUTH — TO THE CAROLINAS. I WANTED TO GET OUT OF THERE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, AND I DIDN'T EVER WANT TO GO BACK. You know, it's also true that those cities started falling apart by the time our generation were kids — in the '50s. Before that, they were taken seriously as cities, where interesting people wanted to live. It's a self-perpetuating cycle. The more interesting people leave, the more no one wants to stay. . . . New York has a monopolization on high culture and the dissemination of mass culture. That's always been true to some extent. But it really spiraled out of control in the '60s.