Why sustainable cities are hitting a wall | Greenbiz – GreenBiz

Sustainability proponents have celebrated the leadership of major cities to advance energy efficiency, electrified transportation and other climate change goals during the past decade. Urban leaders from around the world have established impressive collaborations to share information and develop common commitments. Entities as varied as the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations have supported urban sustainability initiatives. 

The growing economic power of major cities is reflected in the fact that 43 major metropolitan regions generate about two-thirds of the world’s economic productivity and more than 85 percent of its innovations. Meanwhile, the U.N. projects that, by 2050, two-thirds of the population, or about 7 billion people, will live in urban areas primarily because of the economic opportunities they provide.

What is wrong with this picture?

The fly in our sustainable cities soup is that the world’s leading cities stand at the epicenter of economic and many other forms of inequality. Consider these worsening trends:

  • Many urban areas in the U.S. and elsewhere are resegregating as wealthy and largely white people wall themselves off from adjacent neighborhoods to be among people like themselves.
  • Rising housing prices have stymied the ability of aspiring homeowners and renters from living closer to their places of work.
  • Suburbs, once the land of opportunity for aspiring middle classes, have declined as regions for economic growth, opportunity and stability. The number of poor people living in suburbs rose faster than in cities during the past decade.
  • Exposure to pollution disproportionately affects people of color and lower incomes.

Connecting these developments are two factors. The disappearing middle class, from 1970 to 2012, the share of American families living in middle-class neighborhoods declined from 65 to 40 percent; and the hyper-concentration of wealth in increasingly fewer areas. For example, just six metropolitan areas — the San Francisco Bay region, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Diego and London — have received almost one-half of all high-tech venture capital in the entire world in recent years.

Why growing wealth concentration undermines sustainable cities

According to leading urban historian and analyst Richard Florida, two kinds of clustering occurs in cities — the cluster of specific firms and industries (such as information technology in Silicon Valley, finance in London and New York City, entertainment in Los Angeles) and the concentration of educated and talented people who seek opportunities in those locations.

Florida concludes in his important book “The New Urban Crisis” that what emerges is a self-reinforcing process that generates its own fundamental contradictions. “Although clustering drives growth,” he writes, “it also increases the competition for limited urban space; the more things cluster in space, the more expensive land gets; the most expensive land gets, the higher housing prices become and the more certain things get pushed out.”

What has evolved in the most successful metropolitan areas are three attributes fostering their rise to economic power and cultural influence — technology, talent and tolerance. This combination of a competitive business climate and a welcoming people climate, says Florida, “appealed to individuals and families of all types — single, married, with children or without, …….


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PIK turns over materials to enhance Mandaluyong City’s community garden. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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