Creating the Sustainable City: Why?

Creating the Sustainable City: Why?

The world is becoming increasingly urban: today, more than 3.9 billion people (54% of the world’s population) reside in urban areas, while this number is expected to increase with another 2.5 billion by 2050 to almost 70% of the then-projected world population (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2014). This rapid growth will confront not only urban residents themselves, but a whole range of governmental and non-governmental actors with substantial economic, social, and environmental challenges that somehow need to be addressed. The UN Expert Group on Population Distribution, Urbanization, Internal Migration and Development fittingly describes the issue at hand:

“As the world becomes increasingly urban, decisions taken today in cities across the world will shape the economic, social and environmental future of humankind. Properly managed, urbanization can help in combating poverty, inequality and environmental degradation but action to capitalize on the opportunities it presents and to address the challenges it raises must be prompt and sustained.”

(United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2008, p. 33)

It is clear that making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” will prove to be one of the most critically important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of this century. During the EURENSSA 2017 conference, we aim to shed light and facilitate discussion on some of the key challenges related to the sustainable development of cities. We will do this through offering guest lectures, workshops, and excursions in and around the city of Amsterdam on–but not limited to–the following themes:

Energy

Cities require a huge amount of energy in order to run all of their activities. According to the UN HABITAT (n.d.), cities “consume about 75 per cent of global primary energy and emit between 50 and 60 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gases”. How do we ensure that the city of the future has sufficient access to energy to sustain its actions? What technologies and policies do we have at hand that may be helpful in tackling this environmental sustainability challenge?

Infrastructure & Transport

The energy challenge that cities face is inextricably linked to urban housing infrastructure and urban transport systems. Buildings, for instance, “consume vast amounts of energy at all stages of their existence” (UN HABITAT, n.d.)—just think of the required raw materials, the construction process, and the maintenance and daily operational needs such as lighting, air conditioning, and cleaning. Additionally, growing cities inherently imply growing numbers of people that need to move themselves about, from home to work and elsewhere. How can the city of the future make its infrastructures for housing and mobility—both those already existing and those new—more sustainable?

Waste & Circularity

All the activities taking place in and around cities do not only require enormous amounts of energy and put significant pressure on infrastructure and transport networks, they also lead to enormous amounts of solid waste. By 2025, over 6 million tons of urban waste is projected to be produced in cities worldwide per day (World Bank, n.d.). With physical space being further limited due to expanding city borders and with existing landfills reaching their limits, how can we deal with all this urban waste in a sustainable manner? Does developing a more circular view on consumption and production offer fruitful opportunities?

Health & Well-being

Urban waste generation does not only pose challenges in terms of physical space and processing capacity, it can also have serious implications on the health and well-being of urban residents. Badly managed municipal solid waste namely contributes to air pollution and public health impacts (Villela, n.d.). Air pollution in and of itself is a pressing issue in cities in particular, due to the large concentrations of polluting industrial and commuting activities that we find in them. How can we make sure that the cities we live in are and continue to be healthy environments? What activities can we embark on to guarantee people’s social well-being in the city?

Urban Ecology & Food

Closely related to issues of health and well-being and waste and circularity is the problem of food security. Today, nearly 870 million people go to bed hungry, an increasing number of whom live in cities, while at the same time about one billion urban residents suffer from obesity-related diseases (Penn Institute for Urban Research, 2012). What’s more is that roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally (1.3 billion tons per year) (Penn Institute for Urban Research, 2012). What can be done by whom within cities to sustainably manage the production and consumption of food for their residents? What is the role of nature and ecological systems in this context?

References

Penn Institute for Urban Research. (2012). Retrieved from FeedingCities.com: http://www.feedingcities.com/

UN HABITAT. (n.d.). Energy. Retrieved from UNHABITAT.org: https://unhabitat.org/urban-themes/energy/

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2008). An Overview of Urbanization, Internal Migration, Population Distribution and Development in the World. United Nations Population Division. New York: United Nations.

Villela, M. (n.d.). Zero Waste Cities: At The Forefront Of The Sustainable Development Goals Agenda. Retrieved from The World Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mariel-vilella/zero-waste-cities-at-the_b_12029704.html

World Bank. (n.d.). Urban Development Series – Knowledge Papers. Retrieved from WorldBank.org: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTURBANDEVELOPMENT/Resources/336387-1334852610766/Chap3.pdf

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