At the end of the twentieth century mankind is involved in unprecedented experiment. Men are transforming themselves to an urban species. Cities are becoming our main habitat. In the entry-first century cities will decide the destiny of man. The entry-first century cities, with their functioning, will determine the nature of the biosphere. There will be no sustainable world without sustainable cities.
It seems impossible for us to make a world of cities viable, environmentally, socially and economically. The earth is unlikely to accommodate an urbanized humanity which routinely draws resources from distant hinterlands or routinely uses the biosphere. An answer to the question whether cities can transform themselves into self-regulating systems is critical to the future well-being of humanity.
The destiny of mankind is closely linked to the success or failure of human settlements. Many cities and towns have existed continuously for thousand of years. Other have turned into deserts. They collapsed after destroying the local environments from which they drew their resources, or following social disaster or war. We must learn lessons from history and make sure that our cities are socially just, economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
The definition of the word city varies from country to country, depending on how much of the surrounding countryside is included.
According to one estimate some 80 percent of the European, American and Australian population live in cities. Asia and Africa have an even population distribution between city and country. Economic growth is rapidly changing the situation there.
Global economic growth is closely associated with urbanization. We regard cities as places where most economic activity takes place is there where great wealth is generated. With urbanization the impacts on the natural world have greatly increased over the last few decades. Cities built over 2 per cent of the world’s land surface, use 75 per cent of the world’s resources. They discharge similar amounts of waste. The commercial power of cities depends on the inversion of natural resources into consumer products.
In recent years the attentions of planners and thinkers have been focused on the problems of deprivation, alienation, crime and social discontent found in cities. Cities as cultural centers have received much attention. Environmental problems within cities in Sloping countries have been widely publicized, particularly those resulting from air and water pollution, lack of sanitation and waste management and poor working and housing conditions.
Epidemics like cholera, typhoid and TB are now threatening the poor communities in the cities in developing countries. However emphasizes very little has been thought about the huge resource use of modem, cities and the resulting urban waste. Urban development is closely associated with huge resource consumption. City people in , developing countries consume much more fuel, metal, timber, meat and manufactured product than their rural counterparts. We have to ensure the implementation of proper policies and popular initiatives for the efficient use of resources by the cities.
History tells us how most cities prospered by assuring supplies of food and forest products from the surrounding countryside. Some medieval European cities had concentric rings of market gardens, forests, orchards, farm and grazing land. This is also true of many cities in Asia. Future cities have a great deal to learn from this model.
Modern cities function differently from the way cities in the past did. Low transport costs have made distances meaningless. Cities have now been plugged into a global hinterland. Government subsidies on transport infrastructure have facilitated the process. With global trade treaties determining the fate of national and local economies, the actual location of settlements is becoming less important.
Many traditional villages no longer depend on their surrounding farmland and forests as their economic base. In the West villages are becoming dormitories for people who commute to work elsewhere or who use telecommunications as their main medium for income generation. Today we don’t live in a civilization. We live in a mobilization, the mobilization resources, people and products. Mobility emanates from cities along roads, railways, airways and telephone lines. Cities sprawl ever outwards along urban motorways and railway lines to their suburbs and shopping malls.
Modern cities, as centers of mobilization, have vast environmental impacts. Vet, with appropriate measures, cities could prosper with a dramatic reduction in resource and energy consumption. Waste recycling can reduce urban use of resources while creating many new jobs. New materials and architectural designs can improve the environmental performance of buildings in cities. Cities can adopt new approaches to transport planning and management. We can improve the experience of urban living by setting up new urban villages.
A sustainable city is organized so as to enable all its citizens to meet their own needs and to enhance their well being with out damaging the natural world or endangering the living conditions of other people, now or in the future. This definition emphasizes people and their long term needs like good quality air and water healthy food, good housing, quality education, satisfying the old and the disabled. In a sustainable city all the citizens should be able to meet these needs without damaging the earth.
At the local level we are more concerned with economic rather than environmental stability. In the age of globalization, local jobs have become a rare commodity. In many cities the priorities of companies determine people’s well-being. Municipal authorities should play a direct role in ensuring continuity for their populace. This must include economic stability.
Environmental sustainability can generate jobs at the local level. It can do so by shifting emphasis from employment in extractive industries to work in resource conservation. This can be achieved by enhancing recycling and the energy efficiency of cities. Municipal authorities should see their city as a well functioning organism that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Such concepts can be implemented through cooperation between municipal authorities, NGOs.
New communication technologies should be adopted. Urban Intranets can improve communication flows between various sectors of a city. We have yet to learn how to improve the metabolism of our cities and to reduce their damaging effect on the ecology. By adopting effective ways we can make the functioning of our cities less damaging and less Wasteful than what they are now.
The essay is written with three concepts in mind. The three Concepts are appropriate scale, wholeness and connectedness. The scale at which we do something determines whether we are part of it or beyond it. Our cities should be so organized that we feel that we have a stake in the decisions that shape our lives. We have to look at cities as a whole in order to understand the full meaning of sustainable urban development. We want to be regarded as whole beings, with minds, souls and feelings. We also want to create a new sense of connectedness in the neighborhood, to People across the world, and also to future generations.