Sustainable Urbanism

Rukutalu Veswuh

Sustainable urbanism is both the study of cities and the practices to build them, that focuses on promoting their long-term viability by reducing consumption, waste and harmful impacts on people and place while enhancing the overall well-being of both people and place.Cities are not only where rapid improvements in socio-economic and environmental conditions are possible, but it is, indeed, where such change is most needed.

In current times a complex of uncertainties demands sustainable environments. Three uncertainties are distinguished. Firstly, the city needs to deal with uncertain developments, such as the impacts of climate change. Secondly, urban environments are the place where deliberate uncertainties, such as the generation of renewable energy and other sustainability transitions must find a place. The third form of uncertainty is the increased exposure of urban populations to the impacts of a spectrum of uncertain developments, climate impacts.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that largely impacts urban life. Rising global temperatures causes sea levels to rise, increases the number of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and storms, and increases the spread ofdiseases. All these have costly impacts on cities' basic services, infrastructure, housing, human livelihoods and health. At the same time, cities are a key contributor to climate change, as urban activities are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Cities represent the greatest accomplishment of human civilization. Throughout history they have served as centers of scientific research and innovation, solving some of our most dire concerns. Cities offer a largely untapped opportunity to develop cohesive mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with the risks associated with climate change and lessen their impact on the environment.To be effective, such strategies must be integrated into urban planning frameworks.Our challenge is to respond with equally integrated environmental, economic, and culturally sensitive responses. Without a doubt, cities can provide a unique opportunity to positively mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Cities expand because of their capacity to attract business and create jobs to drive that growth. They are currently evolving as the drivers of economic competitiveness.Despite many challenges, rapid urbanization is also expected to generate new business opportunities. In addition to the significant investment in urban infrastructure, urbanization will also generate a range of new services. These services span traditional services such as maintenance, repair, upgrading or outsourcing, but also professional services focused on improving processes, managing change and building workforce skills related to the expected increase in technology enabled urban management such as energy management, transport, security, healthcare, water and education. This new emerging urban market offers the opportunity for new forms of development, aligning donor, citizen and business interests in a new and more concrete manner around commoninterests.

Addressing urban challenges is therefore an ever more urgent priority.Cities need to initiate the foundations of good urban policy now to enable them to address rapidly emerging issues and generate the foundations that will enable them to become sustainable, competitive environments in the near future. Complex, sustainable, competitive cities require leaders who recognize the importance of implementing long-term strategies for needed infrastructure and development to integrate more citizens into the formal economy, make their cities more attractive for investment, and govern in ways that make their cities livable. Cities that manage their resources effectively and create a business-friendly policy environment will see greater private-sector investment and prosperity.

Urban population growth can eitherspur development or contribute to economic disorder and social unrest. With capable leaders at the helm of well-governed cities, urbanization can be harnessed to raise productivity, efficiency, and the global standard of living. The choice to achieve sustainable, competitive urban environments is not in the distant future.We must urgently find ways to achieve economic and socially equitable growth without further cost to the environment. Part of the solution lies in how cities are planned, governed, and provide services to their citizens. When poorly managed, urbanization can be detrimental to sustainable development. However, with vision and commitment, sustainable urbanization is one of the solutions to our ever-growing global population. Efforts to create jobs, reduce our ecological footprint, and improve quality of life are most effective when pursued holistically. By prioritizing sustainable urbanization within a broader development framework, many critical development challenges can be addressed in tandem.

Communities, businesses, and local authorities must be recognized as essential players in developing and implementing national and city-level climate change strategies and socio-economic development. From playing a marginal role within climate change frameworks and funding mechanisms, we must today seize the opportunity and harness the potential of cities to realize a sustainable future for all.Only with a coordinated approach and action at the global, regional, national and local levels, can success be achieved.

The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology, St Joseph’s College (Autonomous) Jakhama.