Many cities are now developing sustainable strategies to reduce pollution and congestion, improve the quality of life of their citizens, and respond to growing concern about human impact on climate and the environment.
No longer in isolation
But sustainable city initiatives often ignore the environmental footprint from imported goods and services such as food, water, and energy to cities: sustainability, it seems, stops at the city limits.
Ultimately, this will not add up to a planet able to support over nine billion people.
"The sustainability of a city can no longer be thought of in isolation from the combined resource use and impacts of cities globally. Urbanization is no longer a local issue," say the researchers behind the article entitled Planetary stewardship in an urbanizing world: beyond city limits, published October 2012. The article is co-written by centre researchers Thomas Elmqvist, Lisa Deutsch and Per Olsson.
The team behind the article proposes that cities analyse how resources consumed within a city are sourced, produced and transported. One solution could be that cities with viable sustainability strategies link together to create a vast system of cities.
A feature of such a system would be an awareness of the global resource use of cities combined. The benefits of a network of this kind could be twofold, contributing to planetary stewardship whilst providing long-term resource security for cities.
Real-time knowledge on resource flows
"Urban areas drive much of the global changes we see, whether in energy use, food supply, resource depletion or land-use change," says lead author Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, based in Stockholm Sweden.
The world has urbanized rapidly and the total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, while urban populations are expected to nearly double, increasing from 2.84 to 4.9 billion.
A system of sustainable cities will require adequate information on resource flows and their impacts, preferably in near-real-time and on a global scale.
"Digital technologies are now putting this kind of information within our grasp," says Dr. Seitzinger.
Novel, but untested
Recently, cities across the globe have joined forces in alliances to curb greenhouse gas emissions, for example through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the World Mayor's Council for Climate Change. This approach allows cities to learn from one another. Good ideas can spread through the network while poor ideas can be ditched quickly.
However, none of these efforts focuses explicitly on non-urban regions that often provide resources to urban areas. The notion of a partnership between "sustainable" cities and between cities and non-urban regions discussed in the paper is novel but untested. The new approach could harness existing partnerships and provide the foundations for a more sustainable approach to urbanization and urban living this century.
Research news | 2018-05-21
Four cases of participatory foresight exercises show impact is not a given. Here’s how to fix it
Research news | 2018-05-17
Applying Elinor Ostrom’s principles on common pool resources management demonstrates how forest management in the Pamir Mountains may not be so tragic after all. But Soviet era legacy lingers, new research shows
Research news | 2018-05-14
To create change in coastal districts of Kenya and Mozambique, dominant narratives must be challenged by stories rooted in people’s lived experiences
Research news | 2018-04-26
Construction of roads and water channels across Colombia’s Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta wetlands has altered the landscape to the point of surpassing mangrove ecosystem tipping points
Research news | 2018-04-26
Over 100 scientists, architects, journalists, artists, designers and activists provide perspectives on what future urban sustainability should look like
Research news | 2018-04-19
New study of UNESCO biosphere reserves sheds light on how people learn to live with social-ecological complexity