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World indicators on the environmentWorld Energy Statistics - Time SeriesEconomic inequality
World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

6. City and Community: Toward Environmental Sustainability


Managing environmental resources during this era of global urbanization is one of the greatest challenges facing the world's cities. With the fastest urban growth occurring in the cities of the developing world, the impact of urban and industrial growth on the environment is no longer limited to a handful of rich countries. It is rapidly becoming a problem shared around the world. In addition, the growing problem of urban poverty is a serious confounding factor in the effort to manage the urban environment and provide essential urban services.

The previous chapter outlines a range of policy options for tackling many of the direct environmental threats facing the world's cities. None of these policies will work, however, if there are insufficient administrative legal resources, or insufficient political will and public support to implement these policies effectively (1). Meeting this urban challenge will require the concerted actions of everyone with a stake in the world's cities-- governments at all levels, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private enterprises, communities, and citizens.

First among these actors must be government. A powerful argument remains for a strong government role in environmental management (2). Governments are needed to plan for growth, to regulate polluting activities, to harmonize competing uses of the urban environment, and to address questions of equity that purely market- oriented approaches miss.

In efforts to improve the urban environment, local governments are especially critical. Local governments are responsible for most aspects of environmental management at the city level, from the provision of urban infrastructure and land use planning to local economic development and pollution control. To properly fill this role, local governments must develop their capabilities far beyond their current levels. In both the developing and the developed world, local governments are under severe stress from rapid urban change--either population growth or decline--fiscal pressures, growing demand for services, and increasing pollution. They often have neither the mandate nor the money or resources to cope with their mounting problems. This is especially true in the developing world, where urban growth is most rapid and governments tend to be underfunded and institutionally weak.

Equally important is the need to build on the efforts of low-income communities to improve their own environments. Community mobilization is by no means a substitute for government intervention; government action is essential in tackling the interconnected problems of poverty and environmental degradation. But the potential for communities to help themselves can be a major force for change. Indeed, over the past three decades, most urban "success" stories have involved projects that have incorporated community action, from the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan, to the Zabbaleen in Cairo, Egypt.

As described in the previous chapters, some of the most severe environmental degradation is occurring in cities of the developing world, with the poorest citizens being the most severely affected. This is where the most concerted action for urban environmental improvement is needed. For that reason, this chapter focuses primarily on the developing world, examining the challenges facing local governments and strategies for enhancing their capacity as managers of the urban environment. It then looks at strategies for empowering and encouraging low-income communities and giving them access to the resources they need to improve their own lives. Community mobilization is by no means limited to cities in developing countries, however. This chapter also describes related initiatives in developed country cities such as New York City and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Finally, it concludes by examining the vital role that cities must play in achieving the goals of sustainable development.

Topics Covered in Chapter 6Strengthening Local Governments in Developing CountriesA Community-Level Approach to Environmental ManagementSetting PrioritiesCities and Sustainable Development

BoxesCities Take Action: Local Environmental InitiativesThe Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi, PakistanHousing Program for Cali's Poor Encourages Self-HelpCitizen Participation Leads to Better Plan for the Bronx, New YorkNigeria's Community Banks: A Capital IdeaInternational Urban Environment Programs

References and Notes
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