DOI: 10.12924/cis2019.07010001 |Publication Date: 15 March 2019

Sustainability Challenges in an Urban Century: Can We Change Urbanization Paths to Make Cities the Solutions for Rather than the Drivers of Global Problems?

Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira
Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), São Paulo School of Management (EAESP) and Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration (EBAPE), São Paulo, SP, Brazil
Abstract: Is urbanization a danger or a solution to global sustainability? What institutions need to change to make urban areas more sustainable? In examining urbanization rates in countries over time, we see that they are often more correlated to carbon dioxide emissions than per capital income [1]. This tells us that urbanization patterns of the last 100 years have contributed to the increase in carbon emissions. We therefore need to develop a new kind of urbanization in order to tackle global challenges. However, reports about global changes often portray urbanization as “a problem”. Cities are polluted and increasingly crowded; urban inhabitants consume proportionately more resources and are responsible for a large portion of carbon emissions ([2], p. 927). As a urban planner, when I read those reports it seems I am looking at the books of urban planning in the last century, particularly those on urbanization in the colonies, where urbanization was presented as an unwanted process that caused a lot of harms to the “civilization” [3,4]. We must therefore change the discourse on how we describe urbanization if we want to transform it, as it will not be stopped. We must stress the many benefits that urbanization has brought to society, which are the main reasons people want to come to the cities in the first place. A question to be considered is therefore how to make urban life compatible with global challenges? i.e., how can we continue implementing/developing urbanization and the benefits that come with it without disproportionally increasing carbon emissions, the destruction of ecosystems and unsustainable consumption. There are many opportunities for win-win strategies between global sustainability challenges and development in urban areas, or synergies, such as climate co-benefits, i.e., tackling climate change and promoting development, particularly in some developing countries where cities are still being built and the path of urbanization can be changed [5,6]. Nevertheless, despite all we have learned about urbanization and the possible co-benefits opportunities since the last century, we lack understanding of the contextual and institutional conditions that make those solutions emerge.


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