Aberystwyth Transitions Reading Group Blog

One thought on “Stieglitz on cities and equality

  1. Thanks for sharing Lotte. It was indeed an interesting read. On Friday I visited ‘The Crystal’ in London, which is apparently a kind of demonstration centre for sustainable cities. It was a rather bizarre experience that I may write about on here. I do agree with Stiglitz that political will is required, but I worry that there is such a severe lack of this and that the dominant ethos upon which cities seem to operate is one of wealth production and not one of reducing inequality and attending to the needs of the population. We played a game in this so-called sustainability centre in which we had to keep a city going from today until 2050 and we were able to invest in, build or tax various things. The message of the game was: invest immediately in fossil fuel plants, dams and motorways. Do not invest in education, healthcare, public transport, or emergency services until the city is making a surplus of money. I understand where this is coming from, a largely financial understanding of sustainability, but my friends and I were dismayed by it as this is the kind of message that a sustainability centre is sending to… well I’m not quite sure who since we were among very few other visitors, but perhaps industry leaders and such?? Business people? (the centre is run by Siemens). The only solutions to trying to live in a more environmentally or socially sustainable way seemed to lie in various technologies, a belief that seems to be reiterated by Stieglitz in the article in reference to the cable cars of Mendellin – incidentally one of only three case study examples used in this sustainability centre that we also visited, the other two being Vancouver and Oslo. It worries me that 1) we have so few examples of sustainable cities from an environmental/social point of view that we seem to be able to count case studies on the fingers of one hand and 2) that the way ‘sustainability’ is being interpreted is very much economic and based on an ecological modernisation view of things. Stieglitz’s message, which seems to get reiterated all over the place is that urbanisation is inevitable and that we need to look at examples of good practice to try and make cities a bit better, but actually I think what’s needed is something far more radical than this, a real hard look at why urbanisation is happening, including looking at processes of change in agriculture and rural life as well as urban life, and serious efforts to rethink what’s going on rather than just tinkering around the edges with a bit of better transport here and there and better building regulations, although these things seem to me to be an essential first step!

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