At present, social changes occur within the earth’s transition period, this includes the “process of globalization.” In this process of globalization, there should be a balance between being market-driven and acknowledging the current political systems of nations. As the world enters into a dimension of constant change, another dimension adds flavor to this change: urbanization. And history itself acknowledges that mankind is already living in an urban situation.
Eric Corijn of the Social and Cultural Geography and Centre for Urban Research in Belgium states that “democratic regulation and social integration were matters of people, their nations and their state institutions; economic practices were accepted to have their own logic, based on private interest and regulated exchange, and not really subjected to the scales and formats of social and political frames.” Hence, a lot of urban planning and development initiatives, such as building tall condominiums, were pushed through but sometimes to the point of destroying natural resources to cater to the needs of a certain group of people.
But let’s check once again: Is this really the case at point?
Urbanity and the Neoliberal Economy
To better have a grasp of urbanity, we can take a look back at history and see how urbanity emerged from the neoliberal economy. “Neoliberal” is defined as the ideology that a free market brings democracy. It is a set of economic policies that became widely known during the past 25 years or so. “Neo” meaning “new” and “liberal” referring to “economic, political, or religious ideas” had a great effect on widening the gap between the rich and the poor; the rich became richer, and the poor became even poorer. This is because the ideology encouraged no restriction on manufacturing and no tariffs, thus allowing “free” trade to happen and for capitalists to freely rack up profits as huge as they want them to be.
One of the main points of neo-liberalism includes deregulation: reducing the government’s regulation of anything that can decrease profits, such as environmental protection. So where does urbanity fit in this concept?
Neo-liberalism has allowed, putting the concept of deregulation at hand, structures such as condominiums and buildings in major city districts to be built. Lands are well-utilized in cities to provide for the citizens’ needs. Urbanity was the goal of modern man to be able to live well for the future. But is it safe to say that urbanity and neo-liberalism are totally wrong?
The Green Way for Urbanity
Urban planners have provided an answer to the skeptics. These environmental advocates have a reason to relax, thanks to responsible green urban planning by building sustainable cities. These cities have been built with the idea of incorporating green living, green architecture, and other current sustainability trends.
And building cities is not easy due to sometimes rapid land use and development, which harms the environment and is likened to the politicians’ grabbing for popularity and fame to attract voters. In addressing this, one should be wise enough to take a stand and to look at the bigger picture in order to see the real deal. If building and property architecture is not good, then maybe it isn’t green at all.
Taz Loomans shares in her architecture article at inhabitat.com eight overarching urban systems that make a city sustainable.
To fight urban sprawl and keep the city intact, first, there should be a sustainable land use planning and urban form to create a sustainable city with walkable neighborhoods and good public transportation, and people should rely less on vehicles.
Sustainable cities should also have innovative housing strategies because these innovative structures are adapting through the needs of time. Examples of these are mixed-use environments with walkable neighborhoods, accessory dwelling units, and co-housing.
Third, it should include a sustainable transportation and mobility service. The personal automobile is not a part of it. This will involve developing reliable public transportation, either train or bus. Bicycle lanes and pedestrian lanes are also part of this.
Of course, urban ecology and strategies for greening the urban environment are also a must. Developers must be able to maintain or create parks and urban forests for the benefit of city residents. This is done to ensure the health and well-being of its residents. Some structures, such as skyscrapers, also incorporate urban forests in their architectural designs. In Chongqing, China, for example, MAD architects conducted an urban forest skyscraper inspired by mountainous Chinese landscapes and hillside traditional villages that consists of a stacked vertical forest at the center of the city.
A sustainable city must additionally have an inclusive plan for recycling waste involving being able to upcycle and close the loop of “stuff,” thus being able to use wastes as energy resource. This can be in the form of using household wastes to be able to fuel power plants that provide electricity to the entire city, which produces sewage, and this sewage is once again recycled for power plants. This clearly shows that green architecture has impacts on energy use as well.
Leaders of sustainable cities, in order to follow the greener way, should be able to make energy-efficiency part of their general plan of action and zoning codes. They have to allot spaces for power plants and draft energy-efficiency standards and policies for the development of their sustainable cities. But for the government to take a stand on this, it should not be mixed with dirty politics—one that looks only after one’s benefits and power at the expense of other citizens. To ensure the welfare of the masses, the government should take a strong position of incorporating renewable energy and practices for the city’s daily operations and development.
Some experts of sustainability also acknowledge the importance of cities’ reducing energy consumption, as 40 percent of the world’s energy consumption comes from buildings. Land developers and architects should always keep in mind the best green practices while constructing tall buildings, such as condos, to manage and reduce their city’s ecological footprint.
Lastly, governance and sustainability go hand-in-hand by starting a green environment—one that changes its citizenry’s unsustainable ways and practices to more sustainable practices. It can start small, by changing the citizens’ transportation system to a more energy-efficient one or by changing the way they dispose and recycle wastes.
The Role of Politics in Green Urbanity
They say sustainability needs a balanced approach and that “a green city starts with green government.” There might be a lot of conflicting ideas when it comes to politics, urbanity, sustainability, land use, and environmental degradation. But the real deal here is how the existing government handles the current situation of urbanity while striking a balance with the concept of sustainability. It is ideal to say that the government has the responsibility of changing its citizens’ mindset to be more open and aware of green living and sustainability. For if the government just ignores this idea and focuses on its self-centered interests, until when will we act on nature’s plea to live a green life? Until our planet Earth has been used up to the extreme? The answer lies in each action and decision we undertake everyday.
Cliche as it may sound, if we don’t take care of our planet Earth, we won’t have an earth to call our home in the future.
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