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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


Many of these same ideas about citizen participation and community mobilization are embodied in the broader concept of "sustainable cities," which has garnered increasing attention over the past few years--especially but not exclusively in the developed world. As yet, however, there is little agreement about what constitutes a "sustainable city" or whether, in fact, such an entity is possible in the narrow sense of the word. A narrow focus on sustainable cities, for instance, can lead to the idea that cities should only draw on natural resources from within the immediate region, which seems increasingly at odds with the globalization of the world economy.

Some commentators have argued persuasively that a more useful framework is to focus instead on the role of cities in sustainable development (99) (100). Here, "sustainable development" is defined as meeting the needs of the present without undermining the resource and ecological base for future generations. This definition is in keeping with that used in Our Common Future, the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission) (101) (102).

Cities are clearly central to meeting the goals of sustainable development. The majority of the world's population will soon live in towns and cities. Worldwide, city-based producers and consumers already account for most of the renewable and nonrenewable resource consumption and waste generation (103).

Many of the priority actions called for in this report have been focused on the first part of the equation: meeting the current needs of the urban poor. As previous chapters have made clear, this involves not just providing physical necessities such as food, fuel, and water but adequate livelihoods and other social, cultural, health, and political needs as well.

In wealthier cities, the second part of the equation, sustainable development, assumes increasing importance, and the priority actions center on reducing both excessive consumption of natural resources and the burden of wastes on the global environment. Such initiatives include reducing fossil fuel consumption, for example, through energy conservation and more efficient transportation systems, and reducing the amount of waste through pollution prevention.

These longer-term ecological concerns are relevant to cities in the developing world as well, for as they grow and prosper, their consumption of resources and generation of wastes will rise accordingly unless actions are taken now to promote the efficient use of resources and the minimization of waste (104). The challenge for all cities is to seek new management approaches that both provide for the needs of urban residents and protect the environmental resources on which human life depends.

References and Notes

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