Apache Junction, Ariz., Nov. 8 -
The Pinal County Greens today passed a resolution recommending that citizens read Andrew Ross's Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City as "a handbook for the possibilities of green democracy in the Valley and similar Sunbelt suburban sprawl communities."
In the recently published book, the author, an eminent New York University professor of social and cultural analysis,
focuses on the prospects for sustainability in Phoenix--a city in the bull's eye of global warming--and also the obstacles that stand in the way. Most authors writing on sustainable cities look at places like Portland, Seattle, and New York that have excellent public transit systems and relatively high density. But Ross contends that if we can't change the game in fast-growing, low-density cities like Phoenix, the whole movement has a major problem. Drawing on interviews with 200 influential residents--from state legislators, urban planners, developers, and green business advocates to civil rights champions, energy lobbyists, solar entrepreneurs, and community activists--Ross argues that if Phoenix is ever to become sustainable, it will occur more through political and social change than through technological fixes. Ross explains how Arizona's increasingly xenophobic immigration laws, science-denying legislature, and growth-at-all-costs business ethic have perpetuated social injustice and environmental degradation. But he also highlights the positive changes happening in Phoenix, in particular the Gila River Indian Community's successful struggle to win back its water rights, potentially shifting resources away from new housing developments to producing healthy local food for the people of the Phoenix Basin. Ross argues that this victory may serve as a new model for how green democracy can work, redressing the claims of those who have been aggrieved in a way that creates long-term benefits for all.
Bird on Fire offers a compelling take on one of the pressing issues of our time--finding pathways to sustainability at a time when governments are dismally failing their responsibility to address climate change.
Richard Grayson, co-chair of the Pinal County Greens, said that Bird of Fire is "not simply an indictment of our current unsustainable community but provides suggestions that can lead to a blueprint for creating a true green democracy in the Valley of the Sun through political and social action."
Grayson said he was long familiar with Andrew Ross's work since the late 1980s, when his friends who were Ph.D. students in American Studies at NYU were students of the professor's and called him "an astute, thorough and often prescient scholar."
Like many others, Ross has recently been active in the Occupy Wall Street movement; here he is speaking on debt at Washington Square Park:
Last month, Grayson attended a discussion on Bird of Fire at The Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the City University of New York, where Grayson is spending the fall semester teaching at Hunter College and Borough of Manhattan Community College before returning to Pinal County in December.
The Pinal County Greens are members of the Arizona Green Party in Pinal County, one of the fastest growing counties in the United States.
UPDATE, Dec. 21 - Please read Tim Hull's insightful review of Bird on Fire in Tucson Weekly.