Climate Change is Going to Kill Agglomeration Economies

We have to do a little bit of everything in our cities if we want to survive

We have to build more self-sufficient and independent cities in the wake of climate change. No, this isn’t an excuse to not stop climate change, but this is the solution to climate change.

How? First of all, a lot of our goods and services are made in one place, not because they are exceptionally better at making said goods, but because it’s cheaper to make them in that place and ship them back to the home country of the company.

Why is it cheaper? Modern slavery.

You may have just learned about the Congolese Colton mines,  the gross labor injustice issues, and how the mineral is what’s powering this very computer I’m writing on and the phone you’re reading this on, as well as electric vehicles and other lithium-powered battery-operated devices.

Likewise, you may be aware of underpaid and overworked Chinese workers, but not those in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, or the Los Angeles garment district.

That’s right, in the shadows of Hollywood, undocumented and underpaid labor is making some of your favorite made-in-the-USA items.

Oh, and so are folks in prisons across the United States, because thanks to the 13th Amendment, that type of enslavement is legal as well. 

Yet, more money is being spent on those prisons, than it is to combat climate change using environmental tactics and to increase real wages and provide housing affordable to those who are making wages at any level.

And yes, Palestine. Enough said.

And I wrote all of the above before the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, shutting down the waterways of one of our key entry points of vehicles, and other goods from other countries. While other East Coast ports will pick up the slack for the moment, stock prices for CSX and other shipping companies have already dropped in the wake of this shipping accident.


When I talk about fixing urbanism, I start with labor. I can’t help it, not only because I’m a descendant of enslaved Africans brought to the so-called United States against my will, I am expected to only make 66 cents on the dollar in 2024.

I do make more than that, but only because I live in a jurisdiction that has raised the minimum wage to $17/hour and I not only am a paid advisor to this publication, I’m a freelancer who has negotiated favorable rates for a variety of journalism, public policy, and educational projects.

But, why is it ok that people make less than others? Why are we often telling people to move somewhere cheaper if they are having financial problems, rather than coming together as a community and talking through what we need to provide others, versus what’s happening now, which is a free market and sometimes openly discriminatory policies, many predicated on “states rights”?

So, let’s get back to agglomeration economies and climate change. Some of your favorite cities are set to sink into the ocean if we don’t stop climate change. Some parts of Miami, the Outer Banks, and California already are. 

And we are having tree funerals here in DC because the expected reclamation of the Tidal Basin has already started, flooding several beloved cherry trees twice a day.  There’s a seawall adjustment coming, but how long will that stave off the inevitable? And, how much will those workers be paid? How well will those workers be treated? If they come up with new solutions to the climate change problem, will they be rewarded or will they be seen as a threat, especially if they are Black women, as has been documented by the Pet to Threat phenomenon? Will they be harassed if they are trans or undocumented or some other thing about them that is not white, straight, male, and strong?

Secondly, do we have a “green team”, a well-paid and respected green team operating in those cities and every city?  What do I mean by a green team? I mean a group of people, with distributed leadership, who are advising cities on all aspects of making their cities sustainable. 

Many of those people already exist, but too many cities are mired in competition, even amongst their own city departments, along with regions competing internationally. 

The weather and climate and COVID-19 don’t care about our arbitrary borders. But racism, classism, and capitalism insist on doing so. 

And all of the warmongering in the world to protect said borders and products won’t matter if we don’t have enough collaboration to have at least a small pocket of every kind of industry and person at least within 30 minutes driving distance of each other, and ideally connected much in the way I’m connected by a subway in DC to so many places, that then have buses, bikeshares, and sidewalks to get me to my last mile.

Kristen E. Jeffers is an Advisor to Resident Urbanist. She is one of the first people to bring the concept of Black urbanism to the internet and social media in 2010 by purchasing and launching The Black Urbanist, which in its 13th year continues to be a resource for Black urbanism at the intersection of feminism and queer/trans life. She is the author of the forthcoming Defying Gentrification a workbook for Black queer feminist urbanism. She is the creator of the K. Jeffers Index for Black Queer Feminist Urbanism, a guide, measure, and data center to assess the thrivance of black queer feminist urbanist people globally, and curator of the Black Queer Feminist Urbanist Book Cannon and School. Finally, under the banner of KristPattern, she shares her own journey into sustainable fashion and invites others to do the same. A sought-after public speaker, workshop leader, and cultural critic, she makes her home with her partner just outside of Washington, DC. She is a proud and concerned native of Greensboro, North Carolina. You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn.


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