Which way to the future? This was the question asked…
This blog is part of a four-part series from the Renaturing Cities: Systemic Urban Governance for Social Cohesion conference. Over two days at the start of December, the Politecnico di Milano hosted academics, policy influencers and civil society groups who presented the best and most innovative ideas on transitioning to sustainability and renaturing cities from across Europe. There will be four blogs covering the conference on four topics: Social entrepreneurship, governance, inclusivity and architecture & town planning.
There seems to be a misconception that sustainability and transition is a luxury, not a necessity. The idea that there is a divide between those who need to treat the planet badly to get ahead with their lives, and those who have already achieved the financial stability to be able to have time to think about how their actions affect the environment is a false and damaging dichotomy.
One of the key aims of the ARTS project is to involve the entire community and public with the diversity of initiatives that can benefit their lives, whilst benefiting the world we inhabit. At the Rentautring Cities: Systemic Urban Governance for Social Cohesion conference in Milan this aim was also clear. A number of speakers discussed how they were working to be inclusive in initiatives and make what works for the environment work for us all.
Ophilie Durand from AGE Platform Europe, discussed the development of age-friendly environments across Europe for aging populations. Inclusive environments and sustainable solutions need not be mutually exclusive, as wide scale urban planning has decreased social participation and has also increased wastage of resources. Future schemes need to address both of these problems to create better living environments.
Increased availability and quality of public transport also is a public good, particularly for an aging European population, but also has significant benefits in creating a sustainable city with lower carbon emissions. With AGE Platform acting as an international organisation with significant sway over its constituent member organisations, the fact that sustainability is on the institutional agenda is an exciting development for future intersecting transition projects.
Ricardo García-Mira, a professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of A Coruña discussed how sustainability is a social problem. García-Mira and the GLAMURS project believe in engaging policy makers and stakeholders to show how lifestyle changes and needs can create models for action that lead to innovative policy recommendations. Because of this linear feedback system, policy makers can focus on addressing the social problems in the context of sustainable lifestyles, and ensure a transformative social innovation theory becomes the norm in policy making.
García-Mira also shared facts on how contact with nature can create more inclusive communities. The GLAMURS project has produced research on how more greenery in neighborhoods reduces crime, including the creation of so-called “urban forests” and parks. The project has also found that more contact with nature has been linked to lower instances of domestic violence. It seems that a transition to sustainability can create better places to live for all, and if policy makers and environmental scientists have a shared language and aim, then a great deal can be achieved for inclusivity and sustainability.
Inclusivity of people regardless of socioeconomic status has always been one of the priorities of the Danish education system. Jesper Steenberg and the Sharing Copenhagen project have taken to engaging children and youth with the green city transition in line with these inclusive values. By working with children to explain environmental problems and asking them to come up with solutions, sustainability can become a form of education and societal change, leading to the next generation of pioneering adults. With Copenhagen being European Green capital of 2014, we can hope that they intend to take the work done over the year and see it applied to problems for decades to come in exciting new ways.
There still seems to be a need to focus on the education of non-environmental focused policy makers to consider the impact their work has, but with many organisations and governments taking steps to include people of all walks of life from the bottom up, it seems the wheels of transition have been set in motion. It’s a brilliant development now that moving forward towards more inclusive and sustainable societies is now the only option.