In my most recent post to the blog Interchange at Planetizen.com, I take up the issue of innovation, private markets, and sustainability. I note that the Kindle, the device developed by Amazon.com to read books in digital format, is revolutionizing the book industry by creating a meaningful consumer substitute for hard-copy books. As a result, the Kindle is reducing our environmental footprint while also making life better off.
More importantly, the Kindle is a private innovation, not one induced by planning. Planners need to recognize the importance of privately led innovation when the discuss sustainable development, and this implies embracing the private market and its potential.
As planners grapple with the real world problems of sustainable development, they will need to figure out ways to sustain this kind of innovation on small (e.g. kindle) and large (e.g., nuclear power) scales. This means embracing the only social institution capable of providing the incentives and forward momentum possible to achieve it: the private market. Unfortunately, I’ve seen little of this in the formal planning process let alone the dialogue among professional planners.
Innovation, and the private market that sustains it, is not mystical, mythical or emphemeral. It is real and long-term, as long as we provide the institutions necessary to nurture it.