Taking Cities Beyond the Greenwash

The idea of sustainability is growing up, and as concerns about the environment take hold in cities from the bottom up, some are calling for a more sophisticated approach to "green" city development, write Anthony Flint and William Shutkin.

"We haven't been used to such heavy lifting from the federal government. For years, the action has been at the local level, in metropolitan regions that have been engines of innovation focused on green, compact, transit-oriented settlement. In fact, during the final stages of the Bush administration and into these first days for President Obama, the bottom-up dynamic has led to a kind of Sustainability 2.0."

"While early green efforts had a trial-and-error quality, the latest exhibit a get-down-to-business sharpening of focus. One strong new trend: a real wariness of greenwashing, and the need to analyze initiatives to test not for good intentions, but for impact."

"Local policies such as plastic bag bans, restricting lawn watering and tree-planting must be evaluated to judge their actual outcomes in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the quality of city life, said Judy Layzer from the urban planning program at MIT. Otherwise, "it's just so much easier to do 'sustainability lite'," she said."

"Metropolitan regions also need to be guided through the maze of grants, rebates and tax credits available for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. In the midst of the current economic tumult, green leases and green loan documents will become central to development financing, requiring sure-footed modeling that shows the savings of going green over the long term."

Full Story: Getting Down to Business In Sustainability 2.0



Living City Challenge

The article is worth reading and has some pointed things to say about where cities have fallen short. Their call for rigour is right on time; cities the world over are struggling to deal with these issues effectively.

The one thing they leave out though is the social component of this change.

I'm doing research into the institutional barriers to municipal action on climate change and again and again I keep coming up against issues of departmental culture, rooted in the specific skills that practitioners have and the way they have been trained to see their role. There is a kind of "trained incapacity" to deal with these issues. People are highly specialized and averse to taking risks within a culture (and performance management systems) that encourage conformity.

To create change at that level I think we need a broader vision of what we hope to acheive. I've posted a longer response here: openalex.blogspot.com


Michael Lewyn's picture

What sustainability?

When I read the newspapers, I see stimulus money being used for sprawl-creating highways, while transit service gets cut back. Not my idea of sound environmental policy!

There are many cities that don't greenwash

You're right, cities shouldn't greenwash. But cities such as Malmo and Sustainable Curitiba show what is possible. Any can improve, if they wish.

Michael O'Hare

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