URBAN ENVIRONMENTS AND SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY

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While all indicators of sustainable urban environments will include physical criteria, such as air or water quality,. you will have noticed that several include social factors or suggest that citizen involvement in decision-making is a key requirement for creating sustainable living environments.  According to Roseland (1994) for example, argues that ‘social equity is not only desirable but essential:  inequalities undermine sustainable development’ and that Public participation is itself a sustanable development strategy.  Social equity is a key principle of the Agenda 21 for sustainable development agreed between more that 150 nations at the# Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  Such thoughts open up important questions about social sustainability, the idea that oppression, domination or exploitation of groups of people do not provide a morally or politically accepteable basis for development, and therefore cannot be considered to be sustainable.

The ecological space of settlements is such that they are  part of a set of international relationships.  As the quotation at the start of this chapter showed, the quiet Sumatran town of Bengkutu’ draws people from across the globe.  They are transported there by planes using a fossil fuel, oil.  The environment within Bengkulus, is designed to meet the needs of the foreign visitors, with hotels, tourists shops and so on.` There are hundred of Bengkulus, places where the command of energy and the spending power of people from the rich North- expressed through world markets -fashions the urban environment..  Similarly, the day-to-day environments that are ‘home’ to Europeans and North Americans are dependent on cheap and  readily available petrol.  The need to protect assured oil supplies is of vital importance, as demonstrated by the 1991 Gulf War; the nature  of urban eenvironments thus has geo-political consequence s.

The domination of global resources by rich countries and the ties that link cities in the North and the South of the world have their origins in colonialism and the development of world trade.  As its simplest, colonialism, involved the production and/or extraction of raw materials in the colonies, and then the processing of them into manufactured products in the imperialist countries.  Some of these products were then exported back to the colonies.  The  requirements of this system gave a particular pattern to the urbanisation process in the colonies.  Some of the ports  developed into substantial cities, based on the export of raw mateials and cash crops and the import of finished goods.  Elsewhere cities were mainly vehicles for administration and the exercise of military power.  They were under -industrialised because they were effectively linked into an urban system of colonialism in which the manufacturing stage was concentrated in the smokestack cities of the European colonial powers.  King (1990) calls this dependent urbanisation, as the role and development of the colonial city was dependent on linked urban-industrial growth in the cities of the colonialists homelands.

At the local level, as well, urban environments can exacerbate social inequity.  Divisions of class are etched into the fabric of settlements.  Rich and poor lives in every different environments within the same city, and these differences are often reflected in health and life expectancy.  The places where we live now have developed around a set of assumptions about the environmental  and social acceptability of mass reliance on extensive car use, and the dangers and restrictions which that imposes on other people’s travel.  

 

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One Response to “URBAN ENVIRONMENTS AND SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY”

  1. sdiederichs Says:

    Interesting. Social equity in towns. Of course this is what we should all aim for, but do you think that this is achievable? Let’s look at London.
    Being the commercial and banking centre of Europe, London attracts a multitude of people linked to the city. Not only are the big industries with their myriad of staff and their families, but the hospitals, schools, universities, service industries, transport, leisure and sport facilities, etc.. In the recent past and due to the EU and Schengen immigration laws, London has attracted a growing number of foreigners wanting to work there at all costs. The working regulations are more relax in the UK as in many European countries which means that you can make much more money as you are not restricted on the number of hours you work, add to this that the NHS system is good, what more do you want? True, due to the capitalist system of efficiency and profit, there is a high turnover of employees as it is relatively easy to fire employees, but this is a risk that many Europeans are happy to take. So London is a very transitional city for foreigners. They flow in, they flow out.
    On the other side, you have the true Londoners, the Brits who lived here all their lives. For them, London is their town, their community. They see with horror what all this influx of foreigners has done to the housing market, the health system, the schools and in general, how everyday prices are permanently increasing. On the one hand, the highly paid foreign workers want better food, better quality and are able and ready to pay the price; on the other hand, the locals can’t afford to live as they always did in their communities anymore. So either they enter the rat race, or they suffer and will probably have to leave. Which is what has happened in so many areas of London which are fast losing their charm: Kensington, Holland Park, Notting Hill, Shoreditch, St John’s Wood, etc, etc… every year, the Brits are pushed further and further away. Gone are the shintz fabrics, in is minimalism. Does it go with Victorian houses? Who cares, let’s keep the facade and rebuild the interior super modern. It is tragic.

    Why do I tell you this in relation to your article. Because I believe that to have a social equity in a community, you have to have a common interest. It is either cultural, architectural or social. But how do you achieve this when there is so much transit? Here in my street, when I moved in 20 years ago, we all knew each other. It was a real community. Our kids would play football in the street, we’d have a “cuppa” on each other front steps, and when somebody moved in, we used to invite as many resident of the street for drinks to meet the new neighbors. Now the older residents are gone as their children are also gone and they don’t need the space anymore, but we don’t even see the new neighbors before a couple of years after they buy their houses, as they automatically embark on massive (I call it de-construction, they call it) re-constructions which last 2 or 3 years. They show no interest in meeting us and the first thing they put is a electronically locked gate and CCTV cameras. And as soon as their houses increase in value, they sell and leave. So unfortunately our lovely and warm social community is dying….

    But in the country, it is different. There is much less migration and therefore communities are much stronger.

    What is strange in a way, is that in a town we live on top of each other but don’t want to know about each other, whereas in the country distances are greater but we care and visit each other. Food for thought….

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