What the experts say: how to make our cities more sustainable

The Guardian
Tom Levitt

With an increasing proportion of the global population living in cities, we have no choice but to find ways of making them more sustainable. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/Barcroft Media

The growth of the city demands our attention. How can we make our cities better places to live, both for us and the planet, when they are expanding at such a phenomenal rate in many parts of the world?

Of course, there are many things cities can do well, such as efficient public transport, utilities and social infrastructure. However, they have to be set against problems including gross inequality, resource-heavy construction and wasteful patterns of consumption.

We recently brought together a panel of experts, including Professor Tim Dixon from Reading University, Lucy Warin from Futures Cities Catapult and Stephen Cook from Arup, to discuss some of these and other challenges.

For those who missed the discussion (see full version), here is our pick of the best comments:

What is a sustainable city?

“Sustainability has come to encompass so many indicators across socio-cultural, economic and environmental domains.” Juliet Davis, senior lecturer in architecture at Cardiff University

“Often social sustainability is overlooked. The relations between the social and environmental are key if we are to move towards more equitable forms of urbanism. It’s clear that the poorest in society suffer most from unsustainable urbanisation, and are forced to live in the most environmentally precarious places, while they also make the most effective use of limited resources.” Ben Campkin, director of the UCL Urban Laboratory

How can we measure how sustainable a city is?

“JLL did some work a few years ago (http://www.jll.com/research/jll-city-indices-november-2013.pdf) and found that there are more than 150 published “city indices” – and that excludes the academic published ones! So, as is so often the case with sustainable development, we need to find common standards to measure sustainable cities.” Tim Dixon

“If the issues will be different in different cities, how much use is a single index anyway?” Chris Cook, AkzoNobel

“Sustainable cities’ policies are rarely evidence-based but instead make dubious assumptions about how the benefits of living in cities will “trickle down” to those in need, without the need for market regulation.” Ben Campkin

“While sustainability is often measured using quantitative tools, we should emphasise the value of qualitative studies that flag up differences of view, experience and interpretation – of community, city life, regeneration, impact of development – as well as suggest the potential for a diversity of sustainable futures.” Juliet Davis

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