ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

Sustainability Research, Reviews and Signposting

Urbanisation Part II – Challenges

Part two of a three part discussion entitled Urbanisation: towards a progress in understanding within the UN Sustainable Development Conference Arena


Main challenges
We have become increasingly aware that both environmental and human development contribute to well-being. In addition, the environmental impacts of urbanisation are widely considered a significant driver of global environmental change. How are we to satisfy the need to conserve the environment with the need to develop as a method to alleviate poverty and suffering?

Some responsibility can be placed at the door of government and policymakers, citing governance failures, inappropriate managerialism, ill-conceived policy initiatives or insufficient policy management. Lee suggests that the challenge of envisaging urban sustainability comes from structural deficiencies, where the urban poor lack the capacity and the urban rich lack the incentive. This is a powerful dichotomy, pitting the government against the governed. Lee’s response is to develop an adaptive strategy by seeing policy as an ‘experiment’ rather than a fixed project with targets and goals.

Policy prescriptions that heed calls from the anti-urban, population-impact or even the ecological-footprint models risk focusing on a set of objectives too narrow to capitalise on the opportunities offered by well-managed, dense urban growth. Urban design and planning can provide solutions that are both aspirational and practical. Several techniques are regularly employed to help tackle urban issues, many of them highly successful. According to Rainger, ‘we know what a sustainable city looks like,’ or at least one that conforms to Western ideals.

Yet despite the raft techniques and methods, policy and governance approaches, all of these speak of political or technocratic methodologies. What of social justice? Where do people as individuals come in? What role for a greater awareness, local knowledge, education, restraint?

One salient model to address many of the aforementioned issues and challenges can be drawn from Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth. He suggests three main areas in which change will provide wide-ranging benefits: build a sustainable macro-economy that “does not rely for its stability on relentless growth and expanding material throughput;” protect capabilities for flourishing by “freeing people from materialistic consumerism through strengthening human capital and providing opportunities for people … within the ecological limits of the planet;” which can be done when we establish “clear resource and environmental limits on economic activity and develop policies to achieve them.”

Future approaches need to address the multi-scalar and complex nature of our cities in order to sufficiently contend with intricate and compound ecological, social, political and economic conditions. The decisions that we and our leaders make must be addressed within a holistic approach combining the ‘small everyday’ with the ‘large planned’ and strategic decisions that unconsciously and consciously shape the environmental impacts of urbanised settlements. They also need to focus on multi-scalar dialogues in which citizens, social networks and stakeholders are engaged with adaptive decision-making processes, where the end goal is not a fixed deliverable but more of a process of experimentation, accepting that outcomes will be social learning opportunities on which to progress.

For a fully referenced version of the entire three-part story, please click here:
Urbanisation-Towards a progress in understanding_COMBINED


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This entry was posted on 9 January 2013 by in Environmental Sustainability, Urbanisation.

Part of the Problem? or Part of the Solution?

Rampant consumerism.
Widespread unsustainable lifestyles.
Unsustainable business practices.
Damaging and unsustainable travel and transport.
Extensive environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.
These are some of the problems we face.
Energy crisis.
Financial crisis.
Uneducated and un-empowered.
Environmental damage.
Food and water shortage.
Climate change.
Are you part of the problem,
Or are you part of the solution?

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