Transitional periods of history, like the Industrial Revolution or the technological revolution of the past 50 years, can produce confusion - a sense of liberation combined with a feeling of being swept along by events. It thus takes a while for new ethical stances to take root or to establish new and coherent worldviews. For example, the link between the individual and the group is gradually being reconfigured, as bonds to traditional place-based communities have fractured and been weakened by increasing mobility and decreasing provision by public authorities. Creating stable, local identities or senses of belonging in this context is difficult.
The temper of the age is one of uncertainty, foreboding, vulnerability and lack of control over overweening global forces. It is hard to see a way to a Golden Age. Among the present-day young, the
Zeitgeist of the 1960s generation, with its sense of 'we can change the world', is absent. A significant proportion of the young today feel change is potentially threatening rather than liberating. But what is different about the spirit of the age is the recognition that the long-term effects of industrialism have hidden real costs.
City mayors or key officials know about the contradictory demands of successful city-making in this context. They experience and navigate the push and pull of clearing rubbish, reducing noise, curtailing crime, making movement and transport easy, ensuring urban services, housing and health facilities are up to speed, while leaving something in the kitty for culture. Day-to-day life needs to work.
But mayors and their cities have to paint on a much larger canvas if they are to generate the wealth and prosperity to fund the necessary investments in infrastructures and facilities that generate the quality of life of their cities.
Cities must speak to a world well beyond national government. They need to attract investment bankers, inward-investing companies, property developers, the talented the world over. They need to court the media through which the city's resonance is either confirmed or generated.
To survive well, bigger cities must play on varied stages - from the immediately local, through the regional and national, to the widest global platform. These mixed targets, goals and audiences each demand something different. Often they pull and stretch in diverging directions. How do you create coherence out of wants and needs that do not align?
One demands a local bus stop shelter, another airport connectivity across the world; one audience wants just a few tourists to ensure the city remains more distinctly itself, another as many as possible to generate money; one wants to encourage local business incubators, another a global brand; for some, an instantly recognizable city brand to disseminate is the way forward, for others it is merely copying the crowd. The list is endless.
Working on different scales and complexity is hard: the challenge is to coalesce, align and unify this diversity so the resulting city feels coherent and can operate consistently.
But lurking in the background are bigger issues that play on the mind of the more visionary urban leader, issues that the world cannot avoid and that cities have to respond to. Global sustainabil-ity is one. And this is a consideration that should shape what cities do, how we build, how we move about, how we behave and how we avert pollution. Taken seriously, it requires dramatic behavioural change, since technological solutions can only take us so far.
There is already an air of resignation, tinged with guilt, in individuals and decision-makers alike; we cannot face the implications of getting out of the car or refitting the economy for the period beyond the oil age. But that time is coming at us fast. It is too easy to respond only when the horse has already bolted. It is too difficult, too many feel, to argue for the switch to public transport, to generate the taxes to create a transport system that feels great to use as much for the well-off as for those at the other end of the scale. This means rethinking density and sprawl. But everyone knows the economic equations and urban formations that make this work as well as the tricks that seduce the user: city regions with hubs and nodes, incentives like park and ride, and disincentives to travel by car.
The issue has been solved in many parts of the world - think of Hong Kong or Curitiba - but it requires a different view of public investment and investment in the public good and, essentially, depends on how much the individual is prepared to give up for wider public purposes.
As already mentioned, there is a tendency to pass the parcel on responsibility. Some say it should be government taking the lead, but at the same time these people do not want government to be so powerful. Yet many US cities have taken the lead over national government and signed the Kyoto agreement, for example, reminding us of the power of cities to drive national agendas.
But sustainability addresses more than environmental concerns. It has at least four pillars: the economic, social, cultural and ecological. And there is more to add. Cities need to be emotionally and psychologically sustaining, and issues like the quality and design of the built environment, the quality of connections between people and the organizational capacity of urban stakeholders become crucial, as do issues of spatial segregation in cities and poverty. Sustainable places need to be sustaining across the range.
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