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Ten Across project helps cities on I-10 collaborate to be 'the future of democracy in many ways'

By Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2024 - 11:26am
Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 - 8:42am

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Interstate 10
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Leaders from 12 cities across the country gathered in Los Angeles recently to talk about common problems, and to try and find solutions. The cities are all along Interstate 10, from LA to Jacksonville, Florida, and include Phoenix and Tucson, as well as El Paso, Houston, New Orleans and Tallahassee.

It’s part of a group known as Ten Across, which calls itself an observatory for the future. Duke Reiter is its director, and he’s also senior advisor to the president of Arizona State University. He joined The Show to talk more about what he heard at the most recent gathering.

Full interview

Was there was any consensus about what to do about issues like water, heat and climate?

DUKE REITER: And you just hit on the origins of the Ten Across project. So it is looking at the I-10 corridor from California to Florida. And indeed, we are looking for those common denominator issues, and they evolve things that you would expect like heat. This is the hottest part of the country. Water, either too much or too little, whether you're in the Gulf States or out here in the desert or let's say energy. How are we going to produce the energy of the future. That's true across the country and particularly in the I-10 corridor, which we would say is on the front lines of climate change.

So what did you hear from folks both in the West, sort of in the, the middle part of the state and on the East Coast about how they're trying to handle some of these issues, and maybe some of the challenges that while the specifics are different, sort of the underlying concerns are the same.

REITER: That's exactly right. It's the issues of leadership, whether it's a national state, local level, how do we make policy, funding for projects, infrastructure, for example, which is in the news. So whether you're in a dry climate or a wet climate, whatever that might be, these other fundamental things, how do we make decisions about the future is what brings people together. And they often enjoy sharing anecdotes about their local conditions, but really want to understand how you from another part of the country are solving your problems and what they can learn from that.

Did you find that folks from the cities in Arizona, specifically like Phoenix and Tucson, I know that there's a lot of communication, a lot of collaboration with cities in California, especially in areas like heat and water. Did you find that the representatives from those two places, from Southern California and from Arizona, like, are we still on the same page with each other to the extent that we think we are?

REITER: Well, the other reason why we picked this geography is it has some fascinating boundaries, state boundaries in particular. So this area includes [three of the largest states in the country,] California, Texas, and Florida. They have different notions about what the role of state government is, maybe even what democracy is. But when it gets down to the fundamentals like water and how do we use groundwater? What's the future of cities and how they're going to have access to the resources they need or let's say between our two states, agriculture. And we obviously share the Colorado River. We can find many common denominator issues, but we also have really different ways of looking at them, which is useful to articulate and learn from each other.

I'm curious how like when you look at a place like Florida versus a place like California, you know, two states that their state governments are pretty much on the opposite ends of the spectrum. How do you try to bring them together to even sort of agree on, on what the facts are that you're talking about?

REITER: I will admit that we're not going to be the ones to bring them together. Although, again, anecdotally, I will tell you when we heard that Gov. Newsom and Gov. DeSantis wanted to have a debate, we volunteered to host it, and we thought the Alamo would be the perfect place to do it halfway between the two sticks. What a great place that didn't turn out to be the case. But, but getting them in conversation and what can they learn about the things that they're each addressing? And we start off our summit, if you look at the agenda with Ron Brownstein from CNN and the Atlantic, simply to talk about if you will, the politics of the moment and how we're going to find a way to come together because the issues that we are addressing in Ten Across, the energy transition. where we're going to find enough water, how are we going to address heat issues? We're going to have to agree on common terms about governance itself.

Well, we often hear so much about how the national politics is not necessarily the politics you see on the city level. Is that true? Is that what you find when you talk about these specific issues?

REITER: That's a real thing. And we represent in the Ten Across project, we've looked at the 12 major metro areas and of course, we look the states, we look at counties other ways of organizing ourselves, but it's absolutely true that cities have a sense of mission. You often see blue cities in red states, but the mayor can do things whoever that may be, whether it's a strong mayor form of government or not. Cities are on the leading edge of innovation. I might even say that they are the future of democracy in many ways.

And so we really start with cities, we have all their chief resilience officers, for example, most cities have them today and get them all together. They don't care about politics. They have become a really well organized Ten Across network because what they have to share is absolutely convertible from one place to another.

I imagine though some of the specifics might be different, right?

REITER: The specifics are of course different. You know, we live, for example, we know here in Phoenix, the hottest city in the country or nearly so. That may not be true of New Orleans, which has much greater humidity, for example. But the impact on people who may be in lesser conditions, including in the homeless, you can share strategies about how to handle excessive heat or heat and humidity. So even though the conditions on the ground are different, the ways of taking a problem apart and finding solutions, absolutely similar.

Did you find that there are particular cities who are taking approaches to some of these problems that maybe you hadn't thought of or some majority of the other city officials hadn't thought of that? People are like, huh that could really work for u, too.

REITER: Just yesterday, we were on the, on a Zoom with the chief resilience officer of Jacksonville, and she is working with our colleagues at the Water Institute, which is based in Baton Rouge, who in turn are doing some collaborative projects with us. The water Institute is helping Jacksonville to build a a program, an algorithm that discusses where flooding is going to occur, but not just the water component of that. What about wind, about tides? What about other things which are often not part of a way of comprehensively looking at a water issue. Well, that model could be used in other cities, but the building of the model could be used to look at dry conditions as well if the model works in a certain way. So yeah, we can absolutely learn from our peers in different places.

So when you leave these summits, how do you feel about some of the issues that were discussed and sort of the regional approach that you're trying to foster here?

REITER: At the core of Ten Across is the idea that probably no society in history has ever been able to contemplate the future, the way that we can. So if we can see where things are going, whether that's about water or the way we build cities and heat or energy or other things, we have a certain obligation to get after what we need to address. So we try to put together people at these summits who can exchange ideas, who are maybe coming from different backgrounds, people who might be expert in insurance, which is a big deal in California and elsewhere, with maybe a chief heat officer with maybe an engineer and see what comes of that. And so what comes out of our summits frequently, and it's happening again right now are collaborations, partnerships which would not have happened were we not putting people together in the way that we carefully curate these discussions.

What excited you most coming out of that?

REITER: There was great enthusiasm for of all things, the insurance panel.


REITER: Because whether you're in Florida, which is greatly impacted by insurance issues, Louisiana, California, I think there was a little bit of a sense that, that insurance might save us. That maybe market forces will demand that we live smarter in places that aren't threatened and therefore we'll do the right things because it's gonna cost us if we don't. And I think the insurance people we had there, we had the former insurance commissioner of California, we had the former CEO of Munich Re, they were saying not so much, be careful. You still have to make decisions, people, society, cities, states, about doing this. We can't keep coming to the rescue. So it's going to be a joint effort between what we do with market forces and what you need to do to think about your, again, future, which you can know.

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