The Sustainable City

  • David C. Thorns


The analysis of global urban development in the last couple of decades has been greatly influenced by the ‘sustainability debate’ and the increasing recognition that we are all part of one eco-system (Therborn 2000). This debate focuses upon the interplay between the environment and the natural resources it contains — water, energy, soil, air — and the pollution and consequent corruption of the eco-system that has taken place through industrial and urban development. A recent idea that has gained currency in the debate is that of the ‘ecological footprint’ which is the calculated amount of ecologically productive land needed on a continuous basis to supply a population with all its resources (goods, services and energy, and so on) and to assimilate all wastes (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment 1998:2). The use of this concept is an attempt to provide integration across the natural and social environment. In much of this debate, ‘sustainability’ is seen largely as a matter of bio-physical processes and the social and the cultural facets of the city and the social actions and political institutions which have emerged over time are seen as secondary to the natural or derivatives from the bio-physical environment.


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Further Reading

Sustainability and Cities

  1. Becker, E. and Jahn, T., eds, 1999, Sustainability and the Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Integrating Environmental Considerations into Theoretical Reorientation. London: Zed Books. The book is the outcome of a UNESCO project to develop ‘a cross disciplinary approach to integrating environmental consideration into theoretical reorientation’. Chapter 1 debates the question of the definition and understanding of sustainability within the social sciences. Other chapters of value are 4, 14 by Redclift and 10 by Eichler.Google Scholar
  2. MacNaghten, P. and Urry, J., 1998, Contested Natures. London: Sage. Chapter 7, ‘Sustaining Nature’, pp. 212–48, draws on a variety of British data to debate the question of what is understood by sustainability.Google Scholar
  3. Polese M. and Stren, R., 2000, The Social Sustainability of Cities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Chapter 1, ‘Understanding the New Socio-cultural Dynamics of Cities: Comparative Urban Policy in a Global Context’. pp. 3–38. This book is a collection of chapters focusing on a range of cities from across the world which were part of a UNESCO study examining social sustainability and cities. Cities included were: Montreal, Toronto, Miami, Baltimore, Geneva, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo, San Salvador, Nairobi, and Cape Town.Google Scholar
  4. Satterthwaite, D., ed., 1999, The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Cities. London: Earthscan Publications. The whole of this book is an excellent cross-disciplinary analysis of sustainable cities: part 2 links sustainable development and cities; part 3 investigates different sectoral programmes (for example, health, transport, and so on) and sustainable development goals for cities; part 4 looks at city-level action, including Agenda 21-based activity, and the final section looks at sustainable development for cities within a regional and national context.Google Scholar
  5. UNCHS. 1996a, An Urbanizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. UNCHS. 2001a, Cities in a Globalizing World. Report prepared by UNCHS for Habitat plus 5 in New York, June 2001. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  7. UNCHS. 2001b, The State of the World’s Cities Report 2001. Nairobi: UNCHS.Google Scholar

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© David C. Thorns 2002

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  • David C. Thorns

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