What the Army can teach smart city planners

Apparently, there's a lot about sustainability planning that civic leaders and smart city planners could learn from their counterparts in the U.S. Army.

Many considerations that this branch of the military is watching closely between now and 2025 -- such as loss of biodiversity, evolving green building codes and the implications of water scarcity -- are summarized in a report by research group RAND ("Key Trends That Will Shape Army Installations of Tomorrow").

While the Army once planned installations in a vacuum, prepared to create the infrastructure it might not have, a number of societal and natural resource considerations are making this process far more difficult, the report suggests.

"Many trends external to Army installations have the potential to help or hurt installations of the future," write the authors of the 350-page analysis. "By examining such trends now and acting to address their implications for installations of the future, the Army can better take advantage of the beneficial ones and mitigate the impacts of the harmful ones to preserve installation operational flexibility and provide quality installation services and infrastructure."

One overriding conclusion of the report is that the Army must collaborate far more closely with local communities on "regional ecosystem management."

Communities are far more interested in installations than in the past, in part because of the strain they could put on natural resources. "The need to consider the local, regional and networks of communities with common interests and to collaborate with them will become more and more important to installations in the future," the report says.

Biodiversity loss, urbanization are urgent priorities

Based on its three years of research, the RAND research team cites biodiversity loss across the United States as one of the most concerning trends due to the restrictions it might put on installation operations such as training, testing and construction.

Why does this matter? The environmental and economic impact of biodiversity in the United States alone is at least $319 billion, according to the report (although that estimate is easily 15 years old, based on the citations provided). Overall, there are two major sets of benefits to consider, which become challenges as losses mount. They are:

Environmental

  • Healthier ecosystems
  • Resistance to invasive species
  • Regulation of the climate
  • Contributions to organic waste disposal
  • Soil formation and retention
  • Biological nitrogen fixation
  • Biological pest control
  • Plant pollination
  • Bioremediation of chemical pollution

Economic

  • Increased crop yields
  • Biotechnology
  • Ecotourism
  • Crop and livestock genetics
  • Increased supplies of food, animals, and pharmaceuticals from the wild

Image credits: City aerial view/CC license by dsearls, succulent roof/courtesy of Fort Bragg

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