Applications are invited from advanced doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers as well as from early career professionals working in geography, urban studies, urban planning, political science, international relations, development studies, gender studies, native studies, cultural studies, sociology, ecology and related fields. Participants will explore the theme of ‘decolonizing urbanism’ through a mixture of public lectures, seminar sessions, advanced skills trainings, excursions, and cultural activities. The Summer University will be held in English.
Special Issue of Environmental Research Letters: “Focus on Cross-scale Feedbacks in Sustainable Land Management”
Ralf Seppelt Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research Peter Verburg VU Amsterdam Albert Norström Stockholm Resilience Centre Wolfgang Cramer Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology Tomas Vaclavik Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and Palacky University Olomouc
The recently UN-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a globally unprecedented aspiration for cities. Among other aims (including inclusion, safety and resilience), SDG-11 aspires to ‘make cities and human settlements…sustainable…’ The implication, of course, is that cities are currently not very sustainable (see Figure 1). By many measures this is true; scholars have shown how many cities are exceeding the carrying and regenerative capacity of the planet. Seto et al. show that cities on average are using land less and less efficiently. While global material extraction has slowed relative to GDP, 80% of which is produced in cities, cement production is accelerating even faster than GDP. As an outcome, the IEA and UN-Habitat estimate that cities are responsible for 60-80% of energy use and 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.
Yet none of this is a fatal flaw inherent to the urban condition. Merely critiquing cities’ unsustainable throughputs is not enough, and mistaking them as parasites is even worse because it usually precipitates highly ineffective solutions (e.g., making cities less city-like). We must not retreat from the city. Cities contain within them the seeds for overcoming their negative externalities. Catalyzing such a transformation requires harnessing agglomeration advantages and tapping into the variety that compact, mixed-use cities offer.
In sweeping images of cityscapes, it is nearly impossible to distinguish individual human beings. We clearly see the products of human actions and decisions – buildings, roadways, streetlights, parks and open space – but it is difficult if not impossible to discern people on the ground, going about their daily lives. The three papers in this series ask us to zoom in and think seriously about the human experience in cities. Putting the needs of people at the center and in full focus is fundamental for advancing urban sustainability.
For over a century, urban planners and visionaries have developed planned neighborhoods as remedies for problems caused by unregulated urbanization. Today, neighborhood planning has broadened its traditional focus on place-making and quality of life to incorporate many key ideas that are grouped under the rubric of sustainable development. Developing sustainable neighborhoods can be regarded as an important step towards solving some of the major global environmental change issues. This is because the neighborhood level is large enough to investigate and influence various socioeconomic and environmental forces that shape cities, yet small enough to coordinate bottom-up initiatives and implement plans.
The rapid urbanization of China is an event unparalleled in human history. Fueled by a near-continuous rural-to-urban migration, the country’s urban population has leaped from a mere 18% in 1978 to 54% in 2013. The effects of this process are evident in a variety of ways; for example: satellite images of the Earth at night have revealed the intense increase in the illumination of China, indicating the fervent expansion of urban built-up areas. Traveling through the country exposes one to the uninterrupted urban/suburban landscapes of the many urban agglomeration clusters, such as the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai-Nanjing-Hangzhou), the Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong), and the Bohai Sea Region (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei). Remote sensing images reveal the alarming rate at which agricultural land is being subsumed by this wave of growth.
The latest UGEC Viewpoints article was written by Alex Aylett of INRS, Canada.
Since its early days, the discourse around “smart cities” has included environmental sustainability as one of its core principles. The application of new digital technologies to urban spaces and processes is celebrated for its ability to increase the well-being of citizens while reducing their environmental impacts. But this engagement with sustainability has been limited to a technocratic focus on energy systems, building efficiency, and transportation. It has also privileged top-down interventions by local government actors. For all its novelty, the smart cities discussion is operating with a vision of urban sustainability that dates from the 1990s, and an approach to planning from the 1950s.
This definition of “urban sustainability” overlooks key facets of a city’s ecological footprint (such as food systems, resource consumption, production related greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and the urban heat island effect). It also ignores the ability of non-state actors to contribute meaningfully to the design and implementation of urban policies and programs. But that doesn’t need not be the case. In fact, if employed properly, new information technologies seem like ideal tools to address some of urban sustainability’s most persistent challenges.