Lester Brown on 'Designing Sustainable Cities'

In "Plan B 2.0, Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble", Lester Brown explores how city design fits into larger, global environmental issues.

"Our global civilization today is on an economic path that is environmentally unsustainable, a path that is leading us toward economic decline and eventual collapse," says Lester Brown in Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

Chapter 11, "Designing Sustainable Cities," goes into detail about urban planning aspects of environmental sustainability, and includes chapters entitled The Ecology of Cities, Redesigning Urban Transport, Farming in the City, Reducing Urban Water Use, The Challenge of Urban Slums, and Cities for People. The full book can be downloaded from the link below.

"If China one day has three cars for every four people, U.S. style, it will have 1.1 billion cars. The whole world today has 800 million cars. To provide the roads, highways, and parking lots to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area equal to the land it now plants in rice. It would need 99 million barrels of oil a day. Yet the world currently produces 84 million barrels per day and may never produce much more."

Thanks to Steve Raney

Full Story: Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble



Lester Brown's Sustainable Cities

It is refreshing to see smart growth, TOD, and new urbanism well-integrated into a book that attempts to solve the world’s environmental problems. Too often, this crucial link [how to reduce human demands on the earth via smart growth] is avoided. The typical environmental solutions book provides a vision of government-funded programs [to improve the earth's health] to be implemented by professionals to: a) stop fisheries from collapsing, b) provide clean water and shore up water supplies, c) stop deforestation, d) reduce soil erosion, e) slow resource depletion, and f) reduce species extinction. In contrast to "implementation by professionals," sustainable cities solutions will require significant behavioral changes by much of humanity. In the states, one of the important goals is to reduce annual household energy consumption from suburban sprawl’s 280 Mbtu to that of walkable urban TOD’s 97 Mbtu (from Peter Calthorpe’s Rail~Volution ’05 presentation. Of the 280 Mbtu, about half is heating/cooling and half transportation).

In Chapter 11, Brown provides Curitiba and Singapore anecdotes, but the chapter necessarily falls short of the thinking in full-length books such as Cervero’s 1998 "Transit Metropolis" or Newman & Kenworthy’s 1999 "Sustainability and Cities." One hopes that Brown’s Earth Policy Institute (EPI) can delve further into their sustainable cities topic and replace their anecdotes with a hard-nosed, step by step plan to bring about a transformation to sustainable cities (with rigorous economic analysis and quantified environmental benefits). It is disappointing that Brown's $167 billion annual "save the earth, control population, and eliminate poverty" budget does not include a line item for smart growth to reduce energy/resource consumption and bring about sustainable cities.

The public policy and cultural constraints that prevent sustainable cities represent a formidable obstacle. It would be interesting to see EPI delve into this issue, rather than “here’s a wishlist of things to do, just wave a magic wand to make them occur.” In addition, EPI would be well-served to augment this chapter with recent innovations such as new mobility, automated transit, social networking, regional visioning, and customer-centered housing/transit design, all of which should reduce sustainable city implementation costs while increasing environmental benefits.

In 30 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, regional visioning exercises are underway. These exercises create 20 to 30-year regional transportation and land use plans. Almost uniformly, the regional visions forecast 50% population growth and, sadly, a minimum of 40% VMT (vehicle miles traveled) increase. Fregonese Calthorpe Associates are the lead consultant on most of these exercises and could perhaps assist EPI with quantitative analysis.

FYI: Brown’s Chapter 11 on Sustainable Cities can be found at: http://www.earthpolicy.org/Books/PB2/pb2ch11.pdf

Steve Raney, Cities21, Palo Alto, CA

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