The Economics of Sustainable Cities: Four Key Components

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After asking lots of questions about the economics of sustainable cities in last week’s blog post, we turned to Twitter to try and find some answers. During the very first #CityTalk - a monthly tweetchat launched by me and the chaps at Future Cape Town – we got caught up in a seriously fast-paced discussion on the subject, with four key trends emerging:

1. Communicating the economic benefits of sustainability

If there really are economic benefits from creating sustainable cities, we need to do a better job of communicating them with politicians, businesses, and residents. Andrew Fleming (@AndrewSFleming) said that ‘public buy-in is crucial, and a lack of consultation thus far has been problematic’. Mayra Hartmann (@MayraHart) suggested money is the main driver in going sustainable, saying ‘the majority will go where the money goes’, but Aaron Coulter (@AaronCoulter) disagreed, suggesting sustainable cities are created by making sustainability ‘the easiest choice’. Ignacio Ramos Soriano (@Ignacio_Ramos) emphasised the main goal with communicating the economics of sustainable cities, saying ‘you can’t have a smart city without smart citizens’.

2. Leadership

Future Cape Town (@FutureCapeTown) acknowledged that whilst the expense of creating sustainable cities may be off-putting, strong leadership could overcome that challenge. Rory Williams (@carbonsmart) said that, even though creating sustainable cities is entirely achievable, ‘the problem is not technical, but institutional and leadership’. Any city leaders out there looking for some inspiration, @falsebaytaxi said leaders simply need to have ‘the will to do what’s right’. Easy, eh?

3. Designing functional, sustainable cities

Richard Palmer (@RichPalmeris) raised the point that existing cities can be designed to encourage more sustainable behaviour, saying ‘creatively dealing with existing urban spaces is critical – we must not just rely on new areas to get it ‘right”. Rory Williams was happy to place blame: ‘bad design that has led to the mess we are in, encouraging irresponsible behaviour’, adding ‘designed well, we don’t have to teach how to use the city sustainably’. I mentioned the importance of realistic goals for cities, saying ‘all cities can be made MORE sustainable, even if not a utopia’.

4. Retrofitting to create sustainable cities

@CapeTown2014 asked ‘what if a city has already been designed in a way that’s not sustainable?’, something Ignacio Ramos Soriano answered,  saying ‘ the challenge is to “retrofit” existing infrastructure’. Future Cape Town agreed, but broadened the definition, saying ‘retrofitting can mean many things. Often it starts with our mindsets.’ Richard Palmer built on this, suggesting we could retrofit the culture of sprawling urban areas by ‘moving commerce out rather than residential in’ – if people want to move out of the city, shouldn’t we make outer cities more sustainable?

These four areas just scratch the surface of what we talked about, so if you’re after a fuller view of the discussion you can check out the whole thing on Twitter. And if you missed out this time don’t fear – the next #CityTalk happens on February the 13th at at 7.00PM London GMT / 9.00PM Cape Town SAST / 2.00PM New York EST. Come join the discussion!

Image courtesy of Vectorportal on flickr

  • http://www.fondazioneflorens.it/en/team-florens-2/ Alexandra x TeamFlorens

    Sustainable cities and economics is one of the major themes at the event we are planning in November 2012 in Florence, Italy: Florens 2012 Cultural and Environmental Heritage Week’ (November 3-11). Right now we have a call for bloggers open – for bloggers in the fields of economics, sustainability, arts and culture – and the prize is a trip to Italy. It would be great if you could spread the word to anyone interested – the topic is indeed timely and important, and we want to increase this conversation online!