Until the Industrial revolution, our world was mainly rural. Only around 10% of the population lived in cities. Today, that percentage increased to 53, and it is projected to reach around 67% by 2050. Also, many of the world’s largest cities face the threat of rising sea levels and more intense storms. Unfortunately, a plethora of them were built on seacoasts, rivers and nature-made canals. Given that such a looming future seems near us, the importance of cities in today’s world is unprecedented. The new global development agenda is trying to empower and ask cities to lead the way on sustainable development – a bottom-up approach.
National governments in this day and age are full of partisanship and immense bureaucracy, leaving cities and their mayors to foster action and innovation. In a world focused on money, profit, and excessive use of our resources, sustainable development provides a new way on how to shape human growth and globalization. Sustainable development focuses on three goals: economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. The term was coined on the paper “Our Common Future” at the Brundtland Commission in 1987. It focuses on the type of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
“Cities will be in the front lines of the battle for sustainable development. Not only do they face direct threats; they also have the best opportunities to identify and deliver solutions. As high-density, high-productivity settlements, cities can provide greater access to services of all kinds – including energy, water, health, education, finance, media, transport, recycling, and research – than can most rural areas. The great challenge for cities is to provide this access inclusively and sustainably.” (Sachs)
So how can cities address the need for sustainable development? By community planning, investing on renewable energy, long-term energy efficiency, water conservation planning, and sustainable solid waste management. This is not an exclusive list, but it encompasses critical points in order to achieve the three main goals of sustainable development. Building sustainability into a city’s infrastructure and community culture creates long-term livability, jobs and increases residents’ quality of life. With a still exponential growing population, preserving and conserving resources such as water and green space is essential to meet the challenges that stem from it.
According to the City Development Strategies (CDS), “the inequality in spatial development and socio-economic classes paired with recent concerns of poverty reduction and climate change are new factors in achieving global sustainable cities.” In fact, many institutions after “Our Common Future” was read mentioned social issues as a possible barrier to sustainable development. There is so much disparity between ethnicities and economic classes that it will take an enormous amount of effort, money, and time to get everyone in the “same page.”
We all need to remind each other that the fight for a sustainable future is the fight for the human race. If we do not possess good quality water, air, and other resources needed for life, we can forget about money and who has the latest iPhone – they don’t make Oxygen, they don’t make water. It is like a Native American proverb stated, “we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”