Walking around in a slum in the outskirts of Delhi this past summer, I asked a group of children what they dreamed of becoming when they grow up. Pat came the usual replies of becoming a doctor, engineer, Bollywood star, and so on. But there were some unusual responses as well. A little boy spoke with conviction of becoming a lawyer, and eventually a Supreme Court judge. Interestingly, this little boy’s response evoked the most admiration from his peers as he described how he would fight in the court to protect their settlement and get assured water supply and flood protection. Growing up in Delhi myself, this little boy’s response struck me as unusual but symbolic of the changing times, and shifting aspirations.
Karen Mossberger, Arizona State University
Caroline Tolbert, University of Iowa
For both policymakers and researchers interested in the nexus between technology use and sustainability at the local level, new data on city and county Internet use in the United States will be available in January 2016. A repository on local Internet use data supported by the National Science Foundation will be located at Arizona State University’s Center for Policy Informatics, through a partnership with researchers at the University of Iowa.
Such data is especially relevant for the many Smart Cities initiatives undertaken by local governments in recent years, and for new efforts by the White House to promote the development of Smart Cities solutions for energy, climate change, transportation, and other policy areas. The $55 million in proposed investments and $105 million in research and new federal spending for Smart Cities includes programs to “accelerate deployment of innovative technologies that tackle energy, water, waste, and air challenges.” (White House, 2015)
Urban design professionals (i.e., landscape architects, urban planners, architects, civil engineers, etc.) suffer from two interconnected design problems related to reducing urban heat islands (UHI): incomplete human scale knowledge and lack of metrics to measure design outcomes. Even though urban design is only one part of a continuous cycle of land management (see figure 1), designers are key authors of our urban climate. Designs, once constructed, lock landscapes into certain urban climate trajectories, some hotter than others. Increasingly cities’ incentivize or require designers to include cool infrastructure strategies at the site and urban design scale (human scale). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) categorizes these cooling strategies as cool roofs, green roofs, trees and vegetation, cool pavements, and smart growth. These strategies are designed to reduce urban heat, some probably do, but others may actually enhance urban heat in cities because our knowledge of human scale heating processes is incomplete (Erell et al., 2013).
When the Ebola virus struck Guinea in late 2013, it quietly went on to surpass the infection toll of all other Ebola outbreaks combined. It did this by becoming, for the first time in history, an urban epidemic. It moved from a rural village of Guéckédou to the town of Dabola to the capital city of Conakry via a man who was travelling for business. He died shortly after falling ill, at which point his family took his body to his home village of Watagala. Within a matter of days, the disease was on the move. Ultimately, the outbreak, which continues in Guinea, has to date resulted in over 28,600 cases– more than 60 times higher than the number of cases in the previous largest known Ebola outbreak.
Population density in urban settings had a role in the spread of the virus, as did the limited healthcare and public health services in the country (which sadly were impacted even further through deaths from the illness in healthcare workers tirelessly serving on the front lines in treating patients). But the outbreak, as well as the recent appearance and spread of other emerging infectious diseases, also shows the connectivity of rural and urban settings in disease spread. They also demonstrate the links to pressures we are exerting on our ecosystems, and in the process, facilitating more opportunities for new diseases to appear.
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.
Emma Arnold & Karen O’Brien
University of Oslo, Norway
We are living in a decisive moment, or in a plurality of decisive moments: a moment when we face unprecedented environmental change; a moment when more and more of the global population lives in cities; a moment when dualities and inequalities are rife and extreme; and above all, a moment that calls for radical transformations. Though moments vary in time and duration, content and form, they are inexhaustible and continuously invented (Lefebvre, 2014). Yet they can also represent “significant times when existing orthodoxies are open to challenge, when things have the potential to be overturned or radically altered” (Elden, 2004). Moments are full of possibility.
Climate change affects countries and populations to varying degrees, and the output of research into the social effects of global change that has been produced is extensive. It has been stated that social vulnerability is not a fixed concept, but instead strongly place-based and domain-specific (Cutter et al., 2014). Within the social domain, gender as a category is frequently discussed in relation to climate change impacts on the Global South (Denton, 2002; Dupont, 2012; World Health Organization, 2014a). Research results suggest that due to climate change stressors, women with limited livelihood opportunities may be at greater risk of poverty if extreme events or loss of biodiversity continue to threaten income opportunities or agricultural practices (World Health Organization, 2014a).
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.
Felix Olorunfemi, Femi Olokesusi & Andrew Onwuemele
Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Nigeria
Nigeria is a disaster-prone country. The frequency and intensity of disasters arising from extreme weather events, especially floods, have increased significantly in recent years (NEMA, 2013; Olokesusi et al., 2015; Gbadegesin et al., 2011 & Olorunfemi, 2008). In the last five years, Nigeria has been affected by several extreme flood events, which have resulted in devastation and economic damages worth billions of dollars. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that the comprehensive Post Disaster Needs Assessment conducted from November 2012 to March 2013 put the estimated combined value of damages and losses resulting from the 2012 flood disaster at $16.9bn. The disaster, which resulted in 363 deaths, affected seven million people, displaced 2.3 million others and damaged 597,476 houses (NEMA, 2013).