Tackling urban sustainability on global scale

December 5, 2012
Michigan State University's Igor Vojnovic says poor countries have much more to think about than saving resources for future generations when so many of their people are dying today. Credit: Michigan State University

As the world's urban areas continue to grow, evidenced by rampant poverty and squalor from Shanghai to Rio de Janeiro, the question becomes: How can we focus on protecting environmental resources for future generations when so many kids are dying today?

That's the dilemma posed by "Urban Sustainability," a new collection of essays by eminent scholars from around the globe. The 714-page book, edited by Michigan State University's Igor Vojnovic, probes the balance between managing city growth, and inequality.

Vojnovic, associate professor of geography and urban and regional planning, said a child below the age of 5 dies every three seconds of poverty-related issues.

"We're not going to have the capacity to deal with urban sustainability if we do not begin to address these fundamental issues of poverty," Vojnovic said. " have much more to think about than saving resources for when so many of their people are dying right now."

In "Urban Sustainability," Michigan State University's Igor Vojnovic and fellow scholars from around the world probe the balance between urban growth, environmental degradation and inequality. Credit: Michigan State University Press

The book's more than 40 authors explore how urban areas from China and India to Africa and the United States are dealing with environmental and socioeconomic urban pressures. Depending on the city, these pressures can be vastly different, making urban sustainability an incredibly complex issue to tackle on a global scale.

"Sometimes the issue is racism, sometimes poverty, sometimes political representation – and most times the issues are intermingled," Vojnovic said. "And then there is the issue of dealing with resource conservation where a small group of people – mostly wealthy – consume a vast majority of resources while many in the world do not have drinkable water."

According to World Bank data, while the wealthiest 20 percent of the world's population accounts for 77 percent of consumption, the poorest 20 percent accounts for just 1.5 percent.

Further, the is expected to increase from 7 billion to 10 billion by the end of the 21st century – and most of those 3 billion additional inhabitants will live in burgeoning megacities, MSU scholar Harm de Blij writes in the book.

Contributing author Jeb Brugmann – who founded Local Agenda 21, one of the largest community-based planning initiatives in history – said the book "presents a more holistic view of the city as a socioeconomic and ecological phenomenon to be developed in an integrated fashion."

"The body of research presented here sheds extensive light on the potential and challenges for re-engineering" the world's cities, Brugmann writes.

Explore further: Ecological impact of African cities

More information: "Urban Sustainability," published by Michigan State University Press, is part of the Global Urban Studies Program, or GUSP, book series.

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1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2012
The more power government has to pick winners and losers, the more power the rich will have relative to the poor. So if you want to address poverty, you should reduce government's ability to meddle in commerce and create winners/losers.

If you're worried about protecting the environment and property, then you need to strengthen laws regarding property rights. People who own their property, seldom pollute it because then they suffer the consequences of a lower property value. Economic commons on the other hand, suffer from everyone wanting the benefits, but none of the costs to maintain the property.
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
On top of all this, we have mind (and independent thought)free types who believe the most ethical and sustainable means to advance the human condition is continued concentration of ownership and use of resources? We are already seeing 50% unemployment in young folks in advanced countries like Spain because our economic theories focus on efficiency as a function of economy of scale and have not provided any insight into how we might actually support the sort of life that might be described as decent for more than just the diminishing and small proportion of owners who are of course focussed on protecting the property rights, which are (in the minds of some) superior to Human Rights? Perhaps we should reduce government and return to the viscious dog eat dog ethos of our not too distant history- I suppose it will be good for the human genetics. And it will serve to make that meddlesome culture thing a thing of the past. Mind free- give your head a shake pal.
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
We are at the start of an era that is going to be disasterous for the less skilled and less privelaged among us and we do not have economic theories that provide workable solutions. For example: more automation = more efficient but also less work and higher unemployment with all its attendent impacts on our social fabric- including higher and accelerating income inequality. Communist theory is discredited and capitalism increasingly so but still serving as our only guide. In its current form, things are not likely to end well but I do not expect there is much out there that is going to care if we- hunmanity- continues to set the scene for our own demise.

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