9169Fwd: The Human City
- Jun 1, 2013From: MD Kini <mdkini@...>* The Human City
By Parag Khanna
The tangled web of international organizations that constitutes global
governance has become so remote and ineffective that few count on it to
deliver results anymore. Now, after decades of turf wars and
self-marginalization, international organizations must rally around an
increasingly pressing global priority: sustainable urbanization.
The world is undergoing an unprecedented and irreversible wave of
urbanization, with the share of the global population living in cities set
to reach 60% by
But rapid urbanization is driving up industrial fossil-fuel consumption and
household water consumption, and is increasing demand for food in areas
where arable land is scarce. In short, the current urbanization trajectory
is not sustainable.
But existing efforts to alter the situation remain woefully inadequate.
While the United Nations General Assembly has tasked its agency for human
settlements, UN-HABITAT <http://www.unhabitat.org/categories.asp?catid=9>,
with promoting sustainable urbanization, the agency lacks the influence to
ensure that this vital issue makes it onto the global agenda.
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Moreover, international development players – including UN agencies, NGOs,
corporate citizenship programs, and other charitable organizations – rarely
coordinate their activities, even though their interventions are
increasingly concentrated in densely populated cities.Given that promoting
sustainable urbanization and improving coordination would bolster progress
in other priority areas (including women’s rights, climate change, youth
unemployment, and literacy), sustainable urbanization must become a
bureaucratic priority. And it must be complemented by a technological
disruption, with investments channeled toward developing and distributing
innovations that would make cities more livable, efficient, and sustainable.
In fact, many useful innovations, such as energy-generating building
materials and zero-emissions transportation, already exist; they simply
need to be made accessible to those who need them most. Devices like
small-scale water-filtration systems, portable heart monitors, and low-cost
tablet computers are already dramatically improving the lives of the
world’s poorest citizens and helping to level the economic playing field.
The future impact of global governance rests on forging new alignments that
facilitate the flow of vital knowledge and technologies from an
increasingly diverse array of sources to urban populations worldwide. The
tools needed to make urban life more sustainable are no longer flowing only
from North to South and West to East. China has taken the lead in exporting
solar photovoltaic cells, while clean-tech parks are arising even in the
Governments, companies, supply-chain managers, corporate-citizenship
strategists, NGOs, and others should commit to reducing their carbon
footprints and to leveraging their resources to contribute to sustainable
urbanization. Opportunities to make such contributions are appearing
constantly – and across all sectors.
In construction, for example, contractors are forming partnerships with
labs to test materials that better reflect heat while absorbing energy to
power cooling systems, and utility companies are leveraging new software
tools to deploy smart meters in homes and offices. Two US cities – New York
and Seattle – have raised efficiency standards for new construction to
Similarly, automobile manufacturers, mobility-services companies, and local
governments are working together to advance sustainable transportation by
providing incentives for efficient non-ownership of vehicles. As a result,
carpooling is gaining prevalence in cities like Berlin.
Furthermore, MIT has developed the foldable electric
four of which can fit into a conventional parking space. At last year’s
Rio+20 conference, the eight largest multilateral development banks pledged
develop sustainable transportation.
Information technology can also reduce stress on the transportation system.
For example, Singapore is harnessing its near-complete fiber-optic network
to reduce urban congestion by introducing a spate of measures encouraging
workers to telecommute. As these measures take effect, self-sufficient
satellite towns will likely develop, reducing transportation-related energy
consumption further, while fostering a more active civil society.
Singapore is leading the way in another area as well: production and
distribution of potable recycled water. Many cities worldwide are following
its example, expanding their water catchment and treatment programs.
Meanwhile, vertical farm experiments – which aim to augment urban food
supplies by cultivating crops in skyscraper greenhouses – are proliferating
from the American Midwest to Osaka, Japan. And India has become a leader in
converting biomass and food waste into energy.
Of course, the billions of farmers and villagers worldwide should not be
forgotten. Interventions like rural electrification, the provision of
drought-resistant seeds and agricultural technology, and the expansion of
micro-insurance are vital not only to rural populations’ welfare, but also
to catalyze a new “Green Revolution,” without which city dwellers will face
severe food shortages.
With new, innovative solutions appearing every day, the real challenge lies
in bringing them to scale – and that requires international cooperation.
But the “smartest” cities are not necessarily the most technologically
advanced. Rather, they are the places where technology and public policy
support citizens’ welfare and aspirations. This crucial fact will guide
discussion at the New Cities
annual summit in June – the theme of which is “The Human City” – and should
be at the heart of sustainable urbanization initiatives.
Making sustainable urbanization a strategic priority might be the only way
to overcome the interrelated crises of jobless growth, youth unemployment,
and income inequality. While some factory jobs can be outsourced or
automated, robots cannot yet retrofit buildings, install solar PV cells on
rooftops, or construct vertical farms. Even the movement in some cities,
such as Singapore and Tokyo, toward driverless subways or cars will demand
substantial labor to build and manage the relevant systems. In the future,
as in the past, the most labor-intensive jobs will involve building homes,
production facilities, and, in turn, communities.
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