Foundations Shaping the Future of Our Cities
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Nine billion people living well within the limits of the planet by mid-century. That is the simple but powerful “Vision 2050” that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, or WBCSD, has for the future of humanity.
Rampant growth and dwindling resources is creating new vulnerabilities to health and economic well-being, greater pressures for urban planning and governance–all of which require new strategies for building resilience for individuals, communities and cities. As we move toward 2050 we are facing the consequences of accelerating urbanization and population growth, the rise of mega-cities and mega-regions, and the increasing demand for and complexity of mobility options.
But Cities are also places of enormous innovation and opportunity! The key to planning for sustainability cities of the future is to bring together the leadership of city governments and the innovation and delivery capacity of the private sector to drive sustainability towards 2050. Here are a few examples of such partnerships and foundations that are catalyzing this movement:
- Building strategic engagement and “co-innovation” between cities and business has been the core focus of the WBCSD’sUrban Infrastructure Initiative, or UII — 14 leading global companies and 10 cities around the world working collaboratively to identify innovative and practical solutions to help cities realize their long-term vision for prosperity and sustainability. The UII recently presented a report to the City of Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter, on sustainability initiatives to support the city’s goal of becoming the Greenest City in America.
For more, watch the video above.
- CDFIs (community development financial institutions) invest in underserved U.S. markets for social and environmental impact. CDFIs make loans and investments to foster economic equality, environmental sustainability, food access, health care, education, affordable housing and more. As financial intermediaries, CDFIs offer a convenient way for impact investors to target their capital towards particular economic or environmental issues.
- The Rockefeller Foundation takes a systemic approach to issues facing urban areas–such as climate change, sustainable infrastructure systems, and innovation for informal economies–with a focus on spurring equitable growth across societies. The Foundation launched the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge to help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. Nearly 400 cities across six continents applied to be among the first cities selected to receive technical support and resources to improve their urban resilience over three years.
- Sustainable Cities International (SCI) is a non-profit based in Vancouver, Canada. SCI works with cities globally to bring about change towards urban sustainability. SCI focuses on building human capacity within cities by bringing together the business and academic communities, civil society organizations and various levels of government to tackle urban issues through peer learning exchanges. They focus on a variety of projects from large-scale planning strategies for cities to small scale urban sustainability projects.
- The New Cities Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to making cities across the world more inclusive, dynamic and creative. The foundation helps incubate, promote and scale urban innovations through collaborative partnerships between government, business, academia, and communities. Their in-house think-and-do tank, the Urban (co)LAB develops applied research projects to better understand and solve the biggest urban challenges of cities. The New Cities Summit 2014– leading global event on the future of the urban world was recently hosted in Dallas, Texas. Such agenda-setting events provide a frank platform for exchange, debate and promotion of major urban issues and their practical solutions.
Rating our performance
Clean Edge recently released its 2014 Clean Teach Leadership Index. The State index rates three subject areas: technology (in areas such as energy efficiency, transportation and green buildings), policy (regulations and incentives), and capital (financial, human, and intellectual). California clearly dominates by having five cities in the top 10. The west coast dominates in clean teach, and the east coast states dominate in the policy arena (clean tech policies, mandates, regulations, and incentives). While the rest of the cities in the U.S are playing catch-up or trying to survive the stress of financial adversity and bankruptcy, foundations like these will help them stand up on their feet again and focus on sustainable development.
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This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.