Community Advocacy on Environmental and Social Justice

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sustainable Cities

What a Waste: Time to Pick It Up

What a Waste publication coverAsk any city manager or mayor what their top priority is and you’re likely to get ‘solid waste’ as an answer. You would think in today’s age we would have solved the waste management challenge and moved on to the next slightly more glamorous municipal service. Not so; and more than ever cities now need to pick it up a notch on solid waste management.

Solid waste is still probably the world’s most pressing environmental challenge. In poorer countries, solid waste can use up to more than half of a city’s overall budget; around the world there are more solid waste workers than soldiers; and despite the more than $225 billion spent every year on solid waste, in many low income countries less than half the waste is collected in cities.

Mining the City: A Proposal to Move the World

Cities are already a major source of raw materials, recycling more than 400 million tonnes a year of paper and metal from their urban ore. In some particularly good countries more than 90 percent of their discarded aluminum cans are ‘mined’ and recycled into new aluminum. In a few cities, old landfills have even been mined to recover past discarded metals. Another link between cities and the mining industry might be replicating contests held by two important mining companies.

In March 2000 Goldcorp announced a very unusual challenge. The company offered $575,000 in prize money, plus put all of its usually highly proprietary geologic data for its Red Lake, Canada property on line. The company needed help on where best to next look for gold. More than one thousand virtual prospectors from more than 50 countries responded. Their suggestions were prescient and highly profitable. The contest took a small niche gold mining company and made it a global player: share prices increased more than 50-fold since 1993.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Cities

  1. Number SevenBe Proactive. There’s much any city can do today. Even without sufficient budget or authorization from ‘senior levels’ of government, every city has a full menu of things that can be carried out immediately, generating positive momentum and goodwill. Business rewards the active entrepreneur, and the public desperately wants active cities. The rewards are great.

  2. Plan – Plan Right. All cities carry out master plans for their key services, long-term infrastructure needs, and land use planning. Before starting these plans, the end needs to be clear. They are guidance documents, aspirational, and ways to rally supporters and give fair hearing to opponents. But a plan, no matter how good, can never be seen as a finished product. Before starting the plan an agreement is needed that the city is moving forward on this issue: the plan is the vehicle to bring along as many supporters as possible and identify potential potholes and trouble en route. Like a city, good plans are living documents. 

Providing Clean Drinking Water for Cities in Turkey

Across the world, countries facing rapid, and often unplanned, urbanization deal with a number of challenges that affect their growing populations. The issues range from a lack of access to decent housing and basic services such as sanitation, water, healthcare, electricity and transport. This has adverse impacts on the quality of urban living. It also undermines the efforts of cities to achieve their full economic potential.

Building Resilience for the Urban Poor - Let’s Get Moving

In the many slums I have visited in Latin America, Asia and Africa, I am always struck by the resourcefulness and resilience of residents. Slum dwellers face many hardships in their daily life – low incomes, overcrowded living conditions in high risk areas such as flood zones or steep hillsides, and limited access to clean water, sanitation, transport or solid waste services.

These challenges are only made worse by the impacts of climate change and natural hazards. Heavy rains can quickly turn into a disastrous flood as a result of insufficient or ineffective drainage.  Such flooding can destroy the limited assets of poor households, halt economic activity, contaminate water supply, lead to disease and displace residents.   With the increase in weather extremes, it is anticipated that such events will happen with recurring frequency.

UN Environment Programme, UN Habitat, World Bank Recognize New Global Protocol for Urban GHG Emissions, Encourage its Use

In March this year, we posted a blog on the draft edition of a global protocol for city-scale GHG emissions, announced jointly by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40, and the World Resources Institute (WRI).
Yesterday, a pilot version of the protocol was released at the UNFCCC climate meetings in Bonn, Germany. And today, UNEP, UN-Habitat and the World Bank expressed appreciation to ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40, and WRI for this accomplishment. To learn more about the significance of the protocol, read this news feature.

Detroit: A Biography

Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle provides a unique glimpse into the life and history of one of America’s used-to-be, and maybe-again, great cities. From the outset you can tell that Mr. Martelle is more than an observant journalist; he’s a native. He’s got skin in the game.

Providing a biography of Detroit is a clever way to help the reader understand the nuances of what brought the city to where it is today. But the book reads more as an obituary than a city-in-progress biography. The closing Epilogue claims, “There is no real answer to the troubles afflicting places like Detroit”.

Guns Don’t Kill People: Nor do Cities Generate 70% of the World’s GHG Emissions

Sooner or later, anyone living in the US will hear a gun rights advocate say that ‘guns don’t kill people, people do.’ Semantics, but true. While we’re on semantics, strictly speaking, cities are not responsible for GHG emissions. Rather the people, or more specifically, those earning the most money, almost all of whom live in cities, are responsible for the vast majority of the world’s GHG emissions. But that is not nearly as easy to communicate, and messaging is important.

car exhaustOn cities and GHG emissions, what is the message we really need to communicate? First, it’s true, if you add up all the GHG emissions – direct (e.g., out the back end of our car) and indirect (e.g., the trees cut down for pasture or the belches from the cattle used in our hamburgers) – residents of cities are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s GHG emissions (and likely more than 80%). This should not be much of a surprise, as these same people are responsible for more than 80% of the world’s economy. GHG emissions are a by-product of the stuff we buy and do.

Collaborative consumption – a trend for the young, the hip, the urban

Moving from California to Washington DC, I did not expect to find revolution; but I have. Fellow city-dwellers are overthrowing old models of consumption (through which their cities became extractors and importers of natural resources and exporters of waste products) by simply changing their habits. One by one, urban citizens are choosing collaborative consumption instead, to save money, resources, and time.

Though sharing is not new – in fact, historically, people lived and consumed resources in groups – it is an innovation in the modern city. A diverse set of sharing mechanisms has sprouted – for-profit, non-profit, informal, and formal – many of which use the web to match supply and demand.

Instead of purchasing cars, consumers are using car-sharing companies (like Zipcar), which allow them to rent vehicles by the hour, or stopping by to get a ride from the Casual Carpool in San Francisco or the Slug Line in Washington DC, two informal, citizen-organized carpool sites that match car-free commuters with drivers looking to enter High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and save on toll fares.

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Hi Eroo !! Whats your Views on this ?