Is Your Future “Sustainable?”

So I often wonder when people ask “what kind of a city will you live in future? Is it a smart, sustainable, liveable or a progressive city?”. So what does this mean?

I’m not going to go into details to define the types of cities, but just give you an idea of the common elements in these three types of cities; smart, liveable and progressive; which are the inclusion of public spaces to enhance human flourishing and growth of civil society, for the city to nurture growth in political, economic, social, physical and ecological relationships. It is about the inclusion of civil society and individualistic needs to increase the capacity of people and community to engage in political and economic interests. Also, it is about the values and traditions people symbolises about their identity and the representation of their image. So the idea of creating liveable cities and “need to link lifeworld’s with community and civic space if we expect human beings to flourish” (Douglass, 2013, Liveable Cities as Public Cities) is an important factor in creating any type of city.

On a global context, we have seen international organisations such as United Nations and World Bank, pushing countries forward, to address the needs and create sustainable liveable cities with political systems to engage with the civic society. But we are still seeing the poor, the oppressed and the youth being marginalised when it comes to the economic benefits and the growth of the cities. Even though the cities are developing into “progressive cities”, we don’t see the equality, equity and participation of the civil society to naturally balance the progress. It is important to realise the distinction between “unhealthy progressive growth” and “healthy progressive growth” which is defined by the distribution and inclusiveness of the society as a whole. The idea of conviviality need to be further embedded in to the cultures and traditions to develop a creative, efficient and beneficial healthy civil society. There should be a balance and capacity for people to practice their individualistic characteristics in creativity and produce services to benefit and satisfy their needs, as it’s their right. As stated by Cho & Douglass “redistribution of welfare services and the initiation of a social economy as instrumental to distributive justice are geared to the exercise of citizens’ right to inclusive life in communities and city” (Making a Progressive City — The Seoul Experience).

Another important factor is the approach to urban design and planning to build smart and progressive cities. The design and infrastructure plays an influential role in how the governance and policy planning aims to build a civic community and implement better quality of life and sustainable development in the city. There should be a connective matrix to address the challenges of liveability and social inclusion into urban designing and implementation. Factors such as maintenance of diverse economy, accessibility of land use for housing and leisure, delivery of economic services for businesses and people, financial stability, protection of environment and involvement of civil society in political decision making of a city, should all be rooted into the matrix.

Hence, it is crucial to understand that to create a sustainable progressive city, we need to embrace and develop a paradigm to link sustainability with political and economic engagement through creation of liveability and community. But one factor that is missing from this paradigm of progressive city concept is “resilience” — the capacity, ability and readiness of a city to bounce-back, be adaptable, restore and resist. So when we answer the question of “what future we want?” mine would be to live in a sustainable, resilient, liveable and progressive city. Because without resilience we will never achieve sustainability.

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