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Can cities shift their systems and structures to become sustainable? This is the second of two exclusive sneak peeks into our newest State of the World publication, Can a City Be Sustainable?Here we feature perspectives from six chapter authors: James Jarvie, Richard Friend, Franzinska Schreiber, Alexander Carius, Michael Renner, and Peter Calthorpe.

How are urban social issues shifting?

Jarvie & Friend: With cities recognized as being at the forefront of addressing global climate change, it is clear that urbanization of the future will need to be very different from urbanization of the past, and from current trajectories. There is an urgent need for a transformative urban future that is socially just, inclusive, and ecologically viable.

The biggest challenge to this transformative urban agenda is improving governance to achieve sustainability goals in places where it currently is dysfunctional, corrupt, inefficient, and/or incompetent, even though all required policies and regulations are nominally present. A greater focus on rights-based approaches needs to facilitate processes through which desperately needed city investments can be made in inclusive, transparent, and accountable terms. Until social gaps are closed, inequity will rise both within and among cities.

“As urbanization increasingly leaves the poor behind, the international community is starting to pay attention.”

James Jarvie and Richard Friend in “Chapter 19: Urbanization, Inclusion, and Social Justice”


What does city structure have to do with sustainability?

Schreiber & Carius: Cities are not only growing in population, but also becoming increasingly diverse and ethnically heterogeneous. Socioeconomic polarization and spatial segregation have become prevailing trends in cities worldwide, with adverse impacts on quality of life and social cohesion.

Although urban planners and designers cannot solve the roots of exclusion and inequality per se, they can aid in increasing the accessibility and integration of deprived areas and provide spaces that increase the chances of interaction and the forming of social relations among people from differing ethnic backgrounds. The creation of mixed-use and socially mixed areas—coupled with good access to public transport, housing diversity, and sufficient provision of vibrant public spaces that facilitate inter-ethnic encounters—are promising ways to enhance social cohesion.

“Finding solutions to counteract disparities and inequalities while strengthening relations and interactions among socially and ethnically diverse groups has become an urgent matter.”

Franziska Schreiber and Alexander Carius in “Chapter 18: The Inclusive City: Urban Planning for Diversity and Social Cohesion”


What does transportation have to do with sustainability?

Renner: Transportation—the movement of people and goods—is the lifeblood of a city. Inadequate transport systems constrain a city’s economy and vitality. But making a city too dependent on motorized transport can cause a host of other problems: traffic jams and deadly accidents, debilitating air pollution, and the loss of valuable land to streets, highways, and parking lots.

Car- and truck-centered transportation systems run the risk of becoming like clogged arteries: they are bad not only for the vitality and attractiveness of cities, but also for urban residents’ health, local environmental quality, and the global climate. As experience worldwide shows, wide-ranging options are available to cities wanting to reduce the footprint of their transportation systems. The opportunities are matched by the urgency with which cities everywhere need to act.

“To become sustainable, cities need to sharply reduce reliance on automobiles and to work to ensure a better mix of well-integrated transportation modes.”

Michael Renner in “Chapter 11: Supporting Sustainable Transportation”


Calthorpe: Mixed-use, walkable, economically integrated, and transit-rich places define good urbanism. More often than not, the positive outcomes that result cost less in upfront infrastructure, ongoing maintenance, and the average household cost of living. Cities that persist in low-density development that isolates activities and income groups and has poor transit will heighten economic and social ills as well as emit more carbon.

The developing world needs massive quantities of affordable high-capacity transit. The developed world needs land uses and transit features that are good enough to move people who are rich enough to have a choice out of their cars. How can this change be accomplished? For developing economies, it is an issue of capacity. For China and the developed world, shifting metropolitan forms toward better outcomes is an issue of political will.

“If cities fail and become matrixes of gridlock, poisonous air, economic segregation, and environmental pollution, the planet will follow.”

Peter Calthorpe in “Chapter 7: Urbanism and Global Sprawl”


The responses above are excerpted from chapters by contributing authors in Can a City Be Sustainable?, a State of the World report.