Editorial Feature

Building Sustainable Towns and Cities

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The modern world poses many local and global sustainability challenges. As communities from various countries and regions think about solutions to these challenges, decision-makers are ever more conscious of the complex interdependencies among natural, human-made and socioeconomic systems.

Major developments in data and communication technologies are also challenging us to consider how these systems interact and how disruptions in one system can have knock-on sustainability effects, possibly into other linked systems. Addressing sustainability challenges calls for consideration and informed decision-making from formal and informal stakeholders.

One of the biggest sustainability challenges facing society today is rapid urbanization. Being such tremendous magnets for talent and investment, cities have become the world’s primary growth engine, producing at least 80% of the global GDP, allowing hundreds of millions to get out of extreme poverty.

However, the current pace and scale of urbanization is triggering major sustainability challenges. Growing income inequality, increasing pollution, and bad infrastructure are all telling signs that today’s cities are finding it difficult to satisfy city dwellers’ increasing demands for a sustainable, flourishing future.

Fortunately, as the impacts of urbanization are growing, so is the global dedication to getting urbanization right. Rapid urbanization is one of the greatest opportunities for the private sector. Business is uniquely situated to shape the sustainable, financially competitive cities of the future.

The Private Sector Role

Many businesses and investors might take the position that making cities and towns sustainable is the job of government and that government is the most useful body for taking action. However, governments around the planet are restricted by major financial and political factors. Governments can’t be counted on to tackle the issue of urbanization single-handedly or to develop good sustainability solutions that drive economic growth. Executing those solutions calls for considerable amounts of capital, significant skill and considerable alignment of interests, which all tend to be in short supply in government – but not in the private sector.

According to experts, numerous private sector approaches could address the issues linked to rapid urbanization and hard to find resources. Often, sustainability solutions focus on growing supply; collecting rain to increase the water supply and generating more electricity through clean technology. But increasingly companies are finding ways to develop and realize value by boosting resource efficiency, overcoming business barriers, decreasing waste and conserving resources.

A popular framework for identifying and leveraging such sustainability opportunities involves three principal tenants: new business models that profit from maximizing resources; financial engineering that promotes investments in efficiency; and attentive selection of markets.

These concepts are especially relevant for infrastructure businesses and companies that make turbines, trains and other industrial equipment, in addition to businesses in bigger sectors like information technology, financial services, and construction.

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

The Public Sector Role

Large governmental agencies are also taking active roles in building sustainable towns and cities.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program is built to offer fast, focused technical aid to selected communities using various tools that have proven results and broad application. These tools include comprehensive documents made to spark discussions around sustainability, community statistics that can be reviewed for insights and a framework that includes a group of possible next steps.

The World Bank is seeking to deal with much bigger sustainability issues than those in one city or country, and it has presented three principles for its New Urban Agenda, which is intended to set the international standard for sustainable urban development. Those principles include sourcing sufficient financing, stimulating territorial development and boosting urban durability to climate change and disaster risks.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.


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