6 Making Cities More Sustainable: People, Plans and Participation Rachael Unsworth – Exploring Sustainable Development


Making Cities More Sustainable: People, Plans and Participation

Rachael Unsworth


The study of urban settlements has rightly assumed a central importance within the wider discussions of sustainability. This is not just a reflection of the size and number of towns and cities in the contemporary world, but also because such urban centres embody many of the tensions and contradictions of development. The concentration of population in urban centres often reveals with particular clarity the extent to which economic activity creates both costs and benefits. Worldwide, the burgeoning urban population is responsible for more than half of the global production of goods and services; but they also account for a much larger proportion of all waste and pollution. Inevitably, activity on this scale has much wider consequences, not least because many resources are imported, and many wastes are exported, far beyond urban boundaries. At the same time, the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty within urban centres itself reminds us that the rewards of development are rarely distributed equally or equitably. It is against this background that practical initiatives are increasingly being taken – internationally, nationally and at the scale of individual municipalities and neighbourhoods – to create more sustainable cities. One dimension of this effort is to increase the efficiency with which resources are consumed, thus minimizing the output of waste. However, a more rounded conception of sustainable development must embrace efforts to foster social equity and to make urban life more tolerable, healthy and rewarding.

After a brief review of the problems characterizing urban centres in both developed and developing countries, this chapter explores the ways in which thinking about sustainable development has changed key aspects of urban management. Attention is paid, first, to debate concerning the role of large-scale land-use planning in raising the quality of urban environments and creating more resource-efficient settlements. In particular, the perceived need to promote energy efficiency and counter problems created by increasing dependency upon motor vehicles has led to advocacy of alternative urban forms. The logic of strategic planning for sustainable development must, however, be set against the need to involve the broad mass of urban residents in defining development priorities that are seen to be equitable and legitimate. Participation is thus the theme of the second half of the chapter. Residents themselves are potentially key agents in the execution of more sustainable development, both through the everyday decisions that they make about consumption and in their willingness to take an active role in projects for urban improvement. Individual and communal initiative in raising urban quality of life and improving environmental conditions is arguably particularly important in the developing world where the formal institutional structures of urban government are often weak. Grassroots change can make a real and positive difference to the lives of urban dwellers. But this approach embodies its own challenge of extending the benefits of local best practice to a global population in need.

The reorientation of urban forms and functions, so that they contribute positively to the search for more sustainable development, is thus an immense and daunting undertaking, dogged by uncertainty at every step from the conceptualization of aims through to the monitoring of results. This chapter will argue, however, that despite the many barriers to progress, the quality of urban life is improving in ways that will benefit the majority of current and future urban residents. In attending to problems within their own boundaries, the people of the world’s cities are also making a significant contribution to the solution of global problems of environmental change, social inequality and economic marginalization.

Continuity and Change in Urban Problems

The environment is a relatively recent addition to urban geographers’ concerns with the form and functions of towns and cities, perhaps reflecting initial perceptions of urban centres as the antithesis of a ‘natural’ environment (Hall, 1995). However, as Mitchell (see Chapter 5) details in the context of European cities, urban inhabitants exert a profound influence upon ecological systems through the consumption of resources in the construction, maintenance and use of the built environment. Urban activity also generates a particular concentration of waste and pollution. Moreover, the effects of urban production, exchange and consumption upon air and water quality, land use and biodiversity are not confined to the immediate locality (Douglas, 1983). The resources consumed within urban systems are drawn from hinterlands that have long been international, and much of the waste that accompanies urban consumption returns to the wider world. The demands of British consumers, for example, play a part in encouraging the over-exploitation of tropical forests; in creating the pollution that causes acid rain in continental Europe; and in perpetuating systems of agricultural land use that displace and marginalize indigenous peoples in parts of the developing world (see Chapter 8). In an era of economic globalization, it is more obvious than ever before that not only are patterns of resource use in urban centres ‘inherently unsustainable’, but that the scale of urbanism ‘is now a major threat to global sustainability’ (Elkin et al, 1991, emphasis added).

The environmental impacts of towns and cities located in the global North are not simply a product of the scale of urban development. They also reflect the demands on material resources made by a population that has attained an unprecedented level of affluence. Yet the benefits of contemporary consumer society are questionable. Such doubts reflect both the evidence of increasing environmental strain and a growing realization that the happiness promised by consumerism is often fleeting (LaTouche, 1993). Furthermore, rising levels of material affluence throw into sharp relief the continuing social inequality experienced throughout the developed world (Low et al, 2000). Indeed, it is in urban centres that the extremes of wealth and poverty are often most closely juxtaposed and, hence, most evident. It is not simply the case that poorer households are denied many of the benefits of consumer society; they also endure lower standards in healthcare, education and other essential services. Frequently, too, poorer communities bear a disproportionate share of the environmental costs generated by urban traffic, industrial pollution and waste disposal. This evident social inequity must be addressed in any attempt to promote more sustainable urban development. But we must also ask what can be done to create more humane cities that will combat pathologies such as crime and social isolation, which diminish the real quality of life for the broad mass of urban residents.

Problems generated by social inequality are, of course, also evident in the cities of the global South. However, urban life in the developing world is characterized by its own distinctive concerns. In part, these reflect the sheer scale and pace of urban expansion. In most Southern states, population growth remains strong, reinforcing the necessity for rapid economic development if the majority are to meet even their most basic needs, including food, shelter and security of income. Demographic and economic growth seem certain to be increasingly concentrated in urban areas. The urban proportion of the population in most developing countries is, as yet, much lower than the 80 to 90 per cent that is common in the developed world. But, while the latter has seen some movement of population and economic activity away from the largest urban centres, the urban population of developing countries is growing at a rate of 150,000 per day, or 55 million per year. The pace of urbanization is beginning to slow in Latin America; but these changes have no parallel in much of Africa and Asia (UN, 1995). By the end of the 21st century, therefore, ‘more people will be packed into the urban areas of the developing world than are currently alive on the planet today’ (UNCHS, 1996).

Comparison with previous European experience of urban growth reinforces perceptions of the sheer scale of the challenge presented by urbanization in the developing world. Leeds, for example, was not unusual amongst UK cities in tripling its population during the first half of the 19th century (Burt and Grady, 1994). This, however, produced a total population of only 180,000 by 1850, a far cry from the millions of new inhabitants now crowding into Southern mega-cities such as Bombay, Manila and Sao Paulo (see Table 6.1). Many other cities experienced at least a tenfold population increase between 1950 and 1990, including Abidjan, Dar-es-Salaam, Khartoum, Kinshasa, Lagos, Nouakchott and Nairobi in Africa, Amman in the Middle East and the Asian centre of Seoul (Hardoy et al, 1992).

Table 6.1   Urban population growth in selected Southern cities, circa 1950–2000


Post-war population, circa 1950

Estimated population, 2000

Percentage growth,
circa 1950–2000

Bangkok, Thailand

1.4 million

7.3 million


Bombay (Mumbai), India

2.9 million

18.1 million


Karachi, Pakistan

<0.5 million

12.0 million

circa 2400

Manila, the Philippines

1.5 million

10.8 million


Mexico City, Mexico

3.1 million

16.4 million


Sao Paulo, Brazil

2.4 million

17.8 million


Source: Fuchs et al (1994); Lari (1996); UNCHS (1996)

Rapid population growth will only exacerbate the existing problems of urban poverty throughout the developing world. In many African, Asian and Latin American states, more than half of the urban population lives below the poverty line (UNCHS, 1996). The consequent lack of individual and collective resources to invest in urban infrastructure and services is reflected in clear North–South differentials in many key determinants of quality of life (see Table 6.2). Provision of medical care, education, housing, water supply and sanitation is frequently inadequate in Southern cities, with consequences for both human health and welfare, as well as environmental quality. Such problems are compounded by a limited capacity for technological and managerial innovation (Pugh, 2000). Levels of car ownership, for example, are much lower in Southern cities than in the developed North. However, many vehicles are old and poorly maintained, emissions legislation is frequently weak or unenforceable, and road networks are inadequate and congested. As a result, pollution is often intensely concentrated and damaging, and death rates from traffic accidents are high (Hardoy et al, 1992; World Resources Institute, 1996). It is more generally true that efficiency in resource and energy use is low in developing countries, so that the environmental impact of each unit of economic output can be markedly greater than in the developed world. Moreover, in the absence of effective land-use planning, polluting industry is still found in inner urban areas, often in close proximity to densely populated residential districts. Residents and workers are thus exposed to environmental dangers and health hazards that have largely been eliminated in the more regulated context of the North.

It is evident, therefore, that fundamental reforms are necessary to lay the foundations for long-term improvements in urban conditions in the developing world. It is vital not just to tackle the immediate problems caused by a lack of infrastructure, but also to address the deeper roots of poverty and injustice. In total the task is formidable, for it requires an end to political instability and mismanagement at a national level and a new equity in international economic systems. However, important advances may also be secured at a more local level through the creation of a new institutional capacity to promote and manage urban improvement. The weakness of urban governance in many parts of the developing world is profound. Again, comparisons with the experience of the developed North are instructive. The urban and industrial transformation of Europe and North America during the 19th and early 20th centuries may initially have been largely unplanned. However, effective urban management systems were instituted long before the scale of urban development reached anything approaching that of contemporary Southern mega-cities. But this is not to argue that aspirations to improve urban form, functions and quality of life must inevitably lead to the global extension of Northern models of urban politics and formal development planning. Within the developed world itself, critics of established modes of urban government have questioned their ability to deliver development that is socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. Top-heavy governmental structures seem at odds with the participatory ethos of sustainable development. Hence, a more appropriate and, ultimately, more effective way forward may be the creation of alternative organizational structures to tap the considerable potential of human capital represented by urban inhabitants themselves.

Table 6.2   Urban and housing indicators

Note: 1 Probability of dying aged five or under.

Source: compiled from data in Flood (1997).

Outlining Sustainable Urban Development

The ideal of the sustainable city

The failures of the present make it all the more urgent to explore alternative futures, looking forward to the creation of urban forms and processes that are both more environmentally benign and better able to deliver improvements in quality of life to the majority of their inhabitants. There can be no single blueprint for a ‘sustainable city’ (Campbell, 1996). Indeed, both the goals of urban sustainability and the means of their achievement continue to be disputed. Some theoreticians and practitioners claim that only a radical reworking of relationships between economy, society and environment will create a truly sustainable urban society. Others, meanwhile, champion more pragmatic and incremental approaches (Baker et al, 1997). But it is possible to sketch out the broad ideals of sustainable urban development, considering the overall form of urban settlement; the changing character of the urban economy; the planning and provision of infrastructure; and measures to raise standards in welfare, education and cultural provision.

The model sustainable city will minimize resource inputs and waste output without destroying employment locally or further afield. This requires the transformation of the structure and workings of the local economy so that they are less resource intensive and deliver a higher quality of life, rather than just a higher material standard of living. Such an economy will cause a minimum of air, water and land pollution. But more than this, a sustainable city will invest resources in cleaning up water bodies and land areas previously contaminated, and in ensuring that biodiversity is maintained and enhanced. Inputs for the urban economy will be derived from renewable and sustainable sources whenever possible and reliance upon local sources of supply will increase.

The shape and function of the urban environment will be transformed, producing multipurpose public spaces that are both green and safe. Buildings will be well designed, both with respect to their form and function, and to ensure high standards of ecological performance. This will create economies in the consumption of energy, water and other resources. A sustainable city will be less dominated by planning for the motor vehicle. Policy will be directed towards reducing car dependency and making travel less necessary by improving alternative means of access to urban facilities.

Information is vital to the creation of urban sustainability. Urban governments must collect, analyse and effectively disseminate information about the state of the environment and progress towards meeting tough environmental and social targets. Information and communications technology must also be used creatively and effectively to deliver services, and to involve citizens in designing change and providing information.

A sustainable city is also politically transformed. It will reform its local democratic processes and structures so that all citizens can be involved in decision-making about their area and its wider linkages. Residents are also motivated to change their own behaviour to complement the overall goals of sustainable development. A reformed system of governance will be dedicated to the promotion of social equity, making explicit links between action on health, housing, education, social services and crime prevention so that the poorest urban dwellers have their life chances significantly improved.

All the different aspects of urban planning, development and management will be incorporated within policy documents that must be endorsed by the population at large if they are to be successfully implemented. Beyond its own boundaries, the sustainable city will have effective links with other urban centres to share knowledge and best practice regarding the continuing pursuit of sustainability. Compared with cities that have not embraced the sustainability agenda, the new urban model is a more coherent centre physically and socially, creating a more enjoyable place in which to live. Holistic, inclusive thinking and action will become the norm. People of all kinds will become more aware of their relationship with the environment and their role in delivering sustainability.

In its most perfect form, the sustainable city is thus a very different place from any existing urban centre. To expect the sudden transformation of urban form and functions is clearly unrealistic. However, progress towards more sustainable urban development is both practical and necessary. Past experience, not only in the developed world, has shown that it is possible to raise housing standards, to curb air and water pollution, to conserve urban green space and plan land use to minimize the conflict between incompatible neighbours. Business may see its own commercial logic in promoting resource efficiency and waste minimization (see Chapter 7), and the technological transformation of patterns of travel, communications and access to goods, services and information is already an established fact. The pursuit of urban sustainability, coordinating all of these changes and many others, will not be easy or uncontested; but it is not an impossible dream. As the following sections show, many different initiatives are already being explored to translate the vision of sustainable urban development into reality. This involves actions that are relevant at a broad range of spatial scales, from the global to the local.

Urban sustainability in context: the city and the world

Sustainable development will rest on sure foundations if it is based on actions and initiatives at the local level. Decisions taken by individuals within households, businesses and other organizations ultimately determine the use made of resources and the extent to which production and consumption creates waste and pollution. Without grassroots support, any grand plans for more sustainable development are vulnerable to subversion. But acting locally is not of itself sufficient (see Table 6.3). Within the city there must be collective organization to support and coordinate neighbourhood initiatives. Other functions are best discharged at a citywide level, often building upon established municipal responsibilities in planning land use, transportation and economic development. Urban governance, in turn, works most effectively when it is supported by the national state. Ultimately, the sustainability of individual urban centres has to be set within overarching national and international frameworks designed to promote a common commitment to combating global environmental damage, socio-economic injustice and political oppression.

It follows that one of the greatest challenges in delivering sustainable urban development is to ensure that actions at each level of the spatial and administrative hierarchy are strong enough to support initiatives taken elsewhere, and that the different elements in the hierarchy are linked effectively. For instance, it is hard for individuals to reduce the problems caused by the disposal of household waste if urban governments do not support the infrastructure necessary for efficient waste management, recycling and reuse. In turn, urban authorities will struggle to implement waste minimization programmes if national planning for sustainable development sets inappropriate targets, or state governments do not devolve the necessary financial resources and legal powers to enable effective local action. These interconnections mean that not only are moves towards more sustainable development inevitably complicated and multi-stranded, there is also considerable potential for conflict and dislocation (see Chapter 4). When connections fail, initiatives at one level may be obstructed elsewhere. Local innovations may be frustrated by an overbearing national authority; but it is equally likely that national plans are undermined by a lack of local legitimacy. At each hierarchical level effort may be wasted and actors become disillusioned, so that they maintain less sustainable behaviour, if they perceive that neighbouring households, companies, districts or countries can act irresponsibly with relative impunity. Nor is the construction of an effective and interconnected hierarchy of initiatives and actors a once-and-for-all operation. The system requires effective leadership underpinned by a continuing process of information gathering, analysis and dissemination, education and awareness raising, and regular revision of the targets and standards that define sustainable development.

Table 6.3   Urban sustainability and spatial scale

Level of action Example of action


•  Setting overall targets for greenhouse gas emissions


•  Securing fairer trade relations so that national incomes increase, generating more resources for investment in urban sustainability


•  Maintaining democratic structures, including the appropriate devolution of power


•  Framing laws and taxes to guide actions and alter decision-making – including provision for sanctions against non-compliance


•  Co-ordinating resource allocation and infrastructure networks


•  Gathering national data on social, economic and environmental matters; defining sustainability indicators


•  Co-ordinating a citywide public transport network, water and drainage systems, waste collection and disposal


•  Integrated transport and land-use planning to reduce the need for travel, minimize resource use and improve environmental quality


•  Co-ordinating economic development


•  Gathering data about the city, its policy impacts and the views of its citizens


•  Initiatives to provide infrastructure, waste management and employment in low-income residential districts


•  Initiatives to involve citizens in improving their own immediate surroundings and their income-earning prospects

It is beyond the scope of this chapter to review the growing body of national and international initiatives designed to foster more sustainable development that impact upon urban areas (see Chapters 3 and 11). The importance of this wider context should, however, be borne in mind throughout the following discussion of changing approaches to urban sustainability. In turning first to plans for the management of urban systems, rather than specific towns and cities, this chapter sketches in some aspects of thinking about sustainable urban development as a national project. However, as is subsequently discussed, recent debates about planning for sustainable urban development have focused chiefly upon measures to change the form and character of individual urban centres.

Planning for Urban Sustainability

Managing urban systems: can the tide of urbanization be turned?

The evident problems of environmental damage, social dislocation and economic unsustainability caused by rapid and extensive urban growth might suggest that the key to greater sustainability lies in setting limits to urbanization. The essence of such ideas can be found in contemporary discussion of the failings of industrial cities in 19th-century Europe (Sutcliffe, 1993). However, it was during the decades after World War II that the most active efforts were made to manage national urban systems in the name of economic efficiency and social welfare. During the 1960s, it was widely asserted by planners and academics that there was an optimum size for settlements at each level of the urban hierarchy. It followed that where this ideal was significantly exceeded, inefficiencies would start to overcome the benefits of urban agglomeration (Berry, 1967; Berry and Horton, 1970; Spengler, 1967). Although it proved difficult to specify these threshold sizes, some commentators suggested that urban populations in excess of 2 million created ‘dysfunctional’ cities (Bairoch, 1975). These ideas gave rise to planning regimes that attempted to limit or divert urban growth to keep individual centres to a ‘manageable’ size. The overall form of some national urban systems was subject to review and a process of ‘smoothing out’ of the urban hierarchy was proposed. This commonly involved efforts to limit the expansion of the largest primary settlements and to accommodate growth elsewhere through the enlargement of existing centres deemed too small, or by the establishment of new towns. Such thinking was evident in post-war Britain, where new towns were championed as the antidote to the problems associated with the concentration of population in the major conurbations (Hall, 1996). Some developing countries – including India, China, Indonesia and South Korea – struggling to cope with the accelerating pace of urbanization also attempted to divert growth away from the largest centres towards the lower rungs of the urban hierarchy (Misra, 1972; Yeung, 1989).

This preoccupation with setting limits to urban expansion has echoes of wider arguments about the need to restrain economic and demographic growth so that it remains within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems (see, for example, Meadows et al, 1972). However, just as the logic and practicality of limiting the totality of growth was increasingly questioned during the 1980s and 1990s (Simon, 1981), so there has been a reaction against efforts to curb urban expansion. It is now widely accepted that attempts to stem or divert urban growth have been, at best, only partially successful. At worst, they have wasted scarce resources and have had a negligible effect on urbanization rates and the problems of urban living (Gugler, 1988; Richardson, 1993; Yeung, 1989).

The concept of sustainable development popularized since the 1987 Brundtland Report refers not to limiting growth, but to changing its character. An emphasis on the more efficient and equitable use of resources should mean that short-term economic benefits can be achieved with less damage to the environment, social justice and the welfare of future generations (von Weizsäcker et al, 1997; WCED, 1987). This shift in thinking has clear implications for the future of urban centres. If there is a continuing need for economic growth to improve quality of life and generate funding for environmental improvements, then much of the success of sustainable development will rest upon the creation of dynamic and efficient urban economies. Cities are crucial concentrations not just of complex problems, but also of the infrastructure, initiative and enterprise that will allow sustainable development to be delivered (Haughton and Hunter, 1994).

Reshaping the city: in search of a new quality of urban growth

The sheer scale of development is no longer viewed as the key determinant of urban environmental quality and the balance struck between socio-economic benefits and disbenefits. Rather, these characteristics are seen to depend more upon the ways in which cities are planned and managed internally. Thus, ‘land use, the transport system and the spatial layout of a city. . . are critical factors for urban environmental quality’ (Nijkamp and Perrels, 1994), and the adequacy of institutions of urban governance assumes a central importance in shaping sustainability. Problems derive not so much from rapid population growth, but from the failure of urban authorities to ensure that their citizens have access to the individual and institutional resources necessary to meet basic needs for income and employment, housing, sanitation, healthcare and education (Hardoy et al, 1992). As increasing numbers of people lead urban lives, it becomes ever more difficult to meet these needs in ways that do not add excessively to the environmental burden of urban consumption. Addressing this challenge requires more than increased investment in housing and infrastructure, the creation of resource-efficient employment and enhanced welfare provision. The spatial character of urban centres must also be reviewed, giving new thought to the siting of different functions: commercial, residential, recreational and environmental. The relative location of these various facets of urban activity can have important implications for the efficiency of resource use, transport demand, access to services, air and water quality, social coherence and community.

Priorities in research and policy development have thus moved away from the manipulation of urban systems as a whole to focus upon improving the functioning of individual centres. Criteria for success have also changed. Attention is no longer paid only to economic efficiency and material living standards; broader improvement in the quality of urban life must include attention to social, cultural, aesthetic and environmental considerations. In pursuing these ends land-use planning has assumed a new importance, not just in minimizing the most obvious and immediate problems caused by urban pollution or congestion, but in laying the foundations for greater long-term sustainability in urban form and function (Blowers, 1993; Campbell, 1996; Rees and Roseland, 1998).

Land-use planning

Urban land-use planning has its origins in 19th-century concerns about public health and social order (Hall, 1996). Initial activity in both Europe and North America attempted chiefly to eliminate the worst symptoms of urban decay and social deprivation through slum clearance. Only gradually did planners and municipal authorities evolve a more positive role in directing investments to improve sanitation and housing provision. During the 20th century, attention to the quality of the urban physical fabric was increasingly complemented by efforts to create a new rationality in spatial form. An increasing segregation of different land uses has been pursued in the cause of economic efficiency and social welfare. Access and the accommodation of the motor vehicle within urban centres have also assumed a growing importance in planning during recent decades.

Planners’ attempts to improve urban environments have, however, met with only limited success. Many of the priorities of 20th-century planning now seem in need of radical review. The emphasis on modernization and redevelopment that particularly characterized the first three post-war decades produced townscapes throughout the developed world that are now regarded as ugly, soulless and a contributory factor in social decay and exclusion. The dominant presence of the motor vehicle within many city centres is increasingly questioned, as is the near total reliance upon private transport for access to services such as retailing and entertainment that have abandoned their established central locations for out-of-town sites. A consistent thread through much of this criticism is the recognition that past planning paid insufficient attention to the environmental characteristics of the new urban world that was being created. Although post-war Britain saw important legislation to improve urban air quality and curb other obvious sources of pollution, little note was taken of the resource efficiency of urban systems, the environmental health of urban landscapes or the ever-increasing ecological footprint generated by urban consumption.

During the 1990s, the ethos of urban planning has thus been subjected to increasing critical scrutiny. Working in tandem with other actors – including architects, developers and the owners of commercial and residential property – planners are attempting to encourage conservation and restoration of valued elements of the built environment. In particular, there is a new emphasis on revitalizing established town centres as commercial and residential areas, rather than surrendering land to development at the urban margins. In this and other ways, the role of the motor vehicle, particularly the private car, is being re-evaluated, with the aim of reducing traffic and congestion. Improving alternative means of access to key urban services is thus an important planning objective. This can be achieved both by the relocation of services to bring them closer to their consumers, and by better provision of public transport, cycle routes and pedestrian walkways. Development proposals are increasingly subject to evaluation of their wider environmental and social implications using techniques such as environmental impact assessment. At the same time there is also a new stress on the environmental performance of individual buildings, with the aim of encouraging efficiency in such areas as water consumption and energy use in heating and lighting (Vale and Vale, 1993).

Changes in planning aims are being actively encouraged by central government in many developed countries. In the UK, for example, the national Planning Policy Guidance Notes which shape the formulation of local plans have been overhauled to reflect the new priorities. The Labour government, first elected in 1997, has also instituted a more wide-ranging modernization of local government and planning, with sustainable development goals being woven more explicitly into the process of local administration (DETR, 1998b). Such ideals were encapsulated in a strategy for sustainable development published in 1999 (DETR, 1999e), accompanied by a revised series of sustainability indicators (DETR, 1999f). Subsequent progress has been charted in a series of annual reports (DEFRA, 2004a). A further phase of activity was launched in 2004 with the production of an updated series of indicators (DEFRA, 2004b) and a fresh round of public consultation regarding UK strategy for sustainable development. Other governmental priorities complement this explicit attention to sustainability, promoting a more integrated approach to urban problems. The Social Exclusion Unit, for example, is intended to improve ‘joined-up thinking’ in all policy areas relevant to the multi-faceted problems of deprived communities. Hence, its remit includes not just unemployment, poverty and social dislocation, but also the quality of the urban environment and the lack of access to key facilities. Many of the emergent changes in thinking were consolidated in the 1999 Urban White Paper (DETR, 1999d), based on the report Towards an Urban Renaissance, produced by the government’s Urban Task Force (DETR, 1999b). These twin initiatives reflect an attempt to establish a new vision for urban regeneration founded on principles of design excellence, social well-being and environmental responsibility, within a viable economic and legislative framework. A key move to give concrete form to such thinking is the Sustainable Communities Plan, launched in 2003, with a budget of £22 billion (DEFRA, 2004a). Changes both at the national and local level are thus gradually fostering a new style of urban planning based on a holistic policy encompassing sustainable land use, economic development and social provision.

Resource efficiency and the compact city

In common with other analyses of urban problems, the Urban Task Force prioritizes a reduced dependence upon motor vehicles. In many of the world’s major urban centres, planners are considering the role that change in urban form can have in curbing the economic and environmental penalties associated with car use. One option is to create more compact urban centres where facilities are easily accessible by non-car transport modes. In practice, however, the barriers to change are formidable. The increasing dominance of the car has literally been built into the existing urban fabric through land-use planning systems that segregate industrial, commercial, retail and residential functions. Few of the suburban housing estates that mushroomed in the post-war decades have adequate retail provision, and employment is concentrated either in urban centres or in business parks located alongside major arterial routes at the urban fringe.

Incremental decisions by millions of planners, businesses and consumers have moved most developed countries into increased car dependency. Any rapid and substantial reversal of this trend cannot, however, be achieved by individual piecemeal initiatives (Levett, 1998). Rather, there must be a coordinated effort to redirect urban planning and management towards reducing travel demand (Breheny, 1992; 1995; Owens, 1986). Amongst others, both the European Union (EU) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) have proposed more compact and higher density urban development as a means of combining enhanced quality of life with reduced dependency upon the car (Elkin et al, 1991; European Commission, 1990; European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns, 1994). Such thinking is evident in the Aalborg Charter of 1994, a declaration of intent regarding sustainable urban development agreed by towns and cities throughout the EU. In acknowledging the strategic importance of local government planning of land use and development, the charter specifically identifies:

. . . the scope for providing efficient public transport and energy which higher densities [of urban development] offer, while maintaining the human scale of development. In both undertaking renewal programmes in inner urban areas and in planning new suburbs we seek a mix of functions so as to reduce the need for mobility (European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns, 1994).

If the compact city model is to be successful in reducing transport demand, planners must establish accessible nodes for the delivery of essential services, creating a pattern of ‘decentralised concentration’ (Owens, 1986). There must also be a well-planned transport infrastructure. But rather than being orientated around the private car, transport planning will aim to increase the number of journeys made by foot, bicycle and public transport.

The energy efficiency achieved by reducing transport demand may be complemented by a reduced need for space heating in higher density developments. Areas of mixed land use are also particularly suitable locations for other innovative means of securing resource efficiencies, such as district heating and combined heat and power generation. Raising the density of development should reduce urban sprawl, thus preserving rural land for agriculture, recreation and wildlife habitat. Potential benefits are increased where planners and developers clean up and reuse brownfield sites in derelict or declining inner urban areas. High-density urban living, often in waterfront locations, has become newly fashionable in many UK cities, especially amongst the young and childless who happily trade suburban space for greater access to the facilities of the urban core. There is thus no necessary conflict between what is desirable and what is sustainable, although extension of the advantages of the city centre living currently enjoyed by an affluent minority to the wider urban population is a formidable challenge.

The potential environmental and social benefits of the compact city are recognized in the advice on planning policy given by UK central government to urban authorities. Guidance Note 13, issued in 1995, specifically identifies local authorities’ responsibilities to reduce car use through better planning for other transport modes and a greater spatial mix of land uses. It also allows for limits to be placed on developments that could undermine traffic reduction. This includes restrictions on out-of-town developments that will detract from the viability and vitality of existing local service centres, and on additional parking provision in locations where effective alternative transport modes are available (DoE and DoT, 1995). Since the Transport Act 2000 passed into law, UK local authorities have acquired more powers to enable them to tackle congestion and pollution in their own areas. Arguably, however, this may also reflect the desire of central government to escape direct association with measures such as congestion charging. Despite the apparent success of the London scheme introduced in 2003 and plans for its emulation elsewhere in Europe and North America, congestion charging continues to attract criticism from some motorists and sections of the business community (Jowit, 2004).

Debating the shape of the city

The ideal of the compact city remains, however, controversial, both in the UK and in the USA, where the ‘smart growth’ or ‘new urbanist’ movement has gained momentum during recent years (New Urban News, 2002). It is far from certain that raising development density will reduce transport demand, energy consumption and pollution emissions (see Chapter 5). There are also wider doubts about its desirability and practicality. Advocates of the compact city draw a clear distinction between their vision of a more sustainable urban form and previous problematic high-density development. Although density of development can be associated with housing stress, it is overcrowding – evident in excessive rates of occupancy per room, rather than large numbers of dwellings per hectare – that creates the most serious social problems (Gove et al, 1979). High-density development does not have to involve high-rise construction, the absence of open space and greenery, and poor environmental quality. The creation of mixed-use and traffic-free urban spaces may reduce social segregation (Burton, 2000) and give greater scope for community cohesion, countering the anonymity of urban existence. Thus, the provision of high-density, but high-quality, housing in a landscaped environment with good access to urban facilities can provide a better quality of life than decanting people to the suburbs. Moreover, as the architect Richard Rogers – a proponent of lively mixed cities – observes, many of the environmental penalties of inner urban living have diminished. The industrial pollution and coal smoke that drove affluent residents of 19th-century cities into the suburbs are largely a thing of the past (Rogers, 1997).

Such arguments do not, however, command universal support. In the UK, for example, the Town and Country Planning Association has expressed concerns that the creation of more compact urban centres will lead to ‘town cramming’ (Breheny and Rookwood, 1993). Rather than guaranteeing a new quality of urban development, the compact city may involve an inequitable sacrifice of urban interests to preserve the quality of rural life and landscapes. High-density living without adequate attention to transport planning and provision may actually increase congestion and pollution (Burton, 2000). At the same time, there are claims that established trends for the decentralization of population and employment – to smaller towns and villages, as well as the suburban fringe – may already be reducing the length of commuting for some individuals (Gordon and Richardson, 1989). Moreover, the decentralization of urban population and activity may prove unstoppable (Breheny, 1995). Stress on urban containment as part of post-war planning regimes has not prevented suburban development. Even cities that have exemplary core areas also have suburbs that cannot now be reconfigured to any significant extent. Nor do critics share the enthusiasm for inner urban life that is inherent in the compact city model. Many still regard major urban cores as ‘dysfunctional curiosities to enjoy as visitors and theatres for civic life, but barely suitable as home or place of work’ (Lock, 1999).

A dose of reality

Overall, experience ‘casts serious doubt on the ability of central or local government to resist, still less reverse, counter-urbanization trends as a device to reduce urban energy consumption’ (Breheny, 1995). In addition, the scale of capital now sunk into peripheral housing and business developments is substantial. As the Urban Task Force report acknowledges, 90 per cent of the buildings and infrastructure that make up today’s towns and cities will still be present in 30 years’ time (K Williams, 1999). Thus, the built environment can only be altered gradually and mean densities of development are unlikely to be substantially altered by physical planning measures. Whatever blueprint is advanced for urban planning, people will still make leisure, business and other trips to specialist locations that cannot be brought within easy reach of everyone (Breheny, 1995). As a result, short-term progress in reducing transport emissions may be limited.

If critics reject the grand vision of reshaping urban form, their thinking often echoes the socio-economic and environmental goals of the compact city model. Several, indeed, offer their own prescriptions for reducing traffic, energy use and pollution. Immediate progress in improving energy efficiency could, for example, be made by investing in improved insulation, heating systems and ventilation for existing buildings (Lenssen and Roodman, 1995; Vale and Vale, 1993; see also Chapter 11 in this volume). A more effective strategy to reduce vehicle use and emissions may combine fiscal elements – road pricing, increased duty on fuel and higher taxation of less fuel-efficient cars – with increased investment in effective and integrated public transport to serve the existing urban layout (Gordon and Richardson, 1989; see also Chapter 5 in this volume).

Rather than attempting to meet growing housing needs by squeezing development onto inner-urban brownfield sites, it may be more practical to create new settlements. Planners and developers will thus have a freer hand to design sustainability in from the beginning by adopting urban forms and technologies that minimize resource input and waste output (Breheny and Rookwood, 1993; Hall, 1996). Curitiba in Brazil is a frequently quoted example of successful planning to integrate public transport within the fabric of a city as it develops. It is also a place where many other sustainability elements have been integrated into urban structure and functions (Rabinovitch and Leitman, 1996). Curitiba remains, however, an isolated success story. Significantly, moreover, its planners have not tried to cut vehicle use by increasing urban densities. Instead, adequate space has been set aside for major public transport arteries. A coherently functioning public transport system, combined with careful planning of the relative location of employment and residential development during a phase of rapid urbanization, has been the key to containing congestion and pollution from private car use.

Alternative technologies may further reduce the environmental impacts of transportation. The development of a less-polluting replacement for the internal combustion engine is one trajectory of innovation; but encouraging teleworking may also reduce commuter traffic. Increasingly cheap and powerful computer systems and telecommunications links make it more feasible for service-sector employees and contractors to work from home or from satellite offices, rather than having to congregate physically in a central location (Castells, 1996). However, the effects of new employment conditions remain unclear, for despite its increasing incidence, teleworking still only involves a minority of the work force. Any reduction in commuting may be offset by an increase in non-work trips, resulting in the temporal and spatial dispersion of vehicle pollution, rather than a net decrease (BT Environment Unit, 1997). Information and communication technologies will not, therefore, automatically deliver urban sustainability objectives; but, properly managed, they could be a powerful tool for sustainable development policy (Borja and Castells, 1997; Bristow, 1997). Many urban authorities are encouraging intensification of information technology (IT) networks to ensure that their central areas are strengthened as nodal points in the networks of information exchange that underpin business and commerce (Graham, 1992). Better access to information could not only reduce conventional travel demand, but also help to achieve economic development goals. IT is creating new communities of professionals, suppliers and markets that are geographically dispersed, but highly connected to existing urban nodes (Short and Kim, 1999). The potential for improvement in educational opportunities, as well as community participation and coherence, further underlines the social importance of access to information (van den Berg and van Winden, 2002). However, such changes set new challenges to counter the emerging differentiation between individuals and communities who are part of the new network society and those who are excluded from the opportunities created by the information revolution (UNDP, 1999).

People as Planners: Participation in the Search for Sustainable Urban Development

Local Agenda 21

It is, in part, to counter such concerns about inequality that most approaches to sustainable development acknowledge that any grand vision or strategic overview must be complemented by the active participation of the mass of the population. This will involve individuals and households in defining their own needs and in establishing shared priorities for development that is more socially equitable, as well as environmentally sustainable. Moreover, the solution to global environmental problems depends, ultimately, upon the will and ability of individuals and communities to change their own behaviour. This perspective, prominent at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is encapsulated in the slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’. Thus, Agenda 21, the summit’s global blueprint for action to promote more sustainable development (UNCED, 1992a), was envisaged as inspiring a multiplicity of local plans (Selman, 1998). The Local Agenda 21 (LA21) process is designed to foster a participatory approach to sustainable development, involving citizens both in setting priorities and in taking action to secure them. Existing structures of local government often provide a territorial framework for consultation exercises, with each area producing its own plan, addressing the balance to be struck between environmental conservation and socio-economic development. The creation of such local plans typically involves an initial report on the current state of the environment, providing the information necessary for participatory planning of more sustainable futures. Also vital is the establishment of a strategy for implementing and monitoring change, as well as a series of sustainability indicators, against which progress can be gauged.

In practice, however, the development of LA21 plans has been relatively slow. Most UK local authorities claimed a commitment to the principle by 1996, the initial target date for the implementation of the LA21 process (Tuxworth, 1996). One third of authorities had completed or updated state of the environment reports and a slightly higher proportion were working on sustainability indicators (Table 5.3 outlines the indicators developed by Birmingham City Council). Yet, as the wider European perspective summarized in Table 6.4 confirms, progress in specific sectors is accompanied by continuing difficulties both in countering deep-seated urban problems and in integrating sustainability provisions within all areas of council activity (see also Gibbs et al, 1998). Many UK authorities have recorded progress in environmental management and land-use planning; but few have made significant headway in promoting new standards in health, welfare and social equity (Selman, 1998). Moreover, the existence of a LA21 document does not, of itself, guarantee that the process of its production and the future action suggested are entirely sound, or will secure more sustainable development.

The LA21 process reveals the problems of attempting extensive public consultation and participation (see Chapter 9). There are inherent contradictions in such a process being led by government, even at the lowest level of the administrative hierarchy, which might be expected to be closest to its citizens. It takes special skills on the part of local authority officers to draw people into the process in such a way that they feel actively involved in decision-making, rather than having a top-down approach imposed upon them (Burgess et al, 1998). Without genuine grassroots motivation, sustainability in its most thorough sense cannot be achieved and the participatory approach risks being hijacked by Green activists and other special interest groups, rather than reflecting a broad base of popular opinion (Selman, 1996).

But so often, it is local authorities that have picked up the sustainable development baton. Self-assessment by nearly 150 local authorities in 27 different European countries, coordinated by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, showed that LA21 can be a strong force for stimulating action in moving towards sustainability. This can only occur, however, where there is a highly integrated approach, high levels of public awareness and active participation. A well-developed partnership between council and community thus provides a basis for the production of an action plan and a context for its implementation (ICLEI, 2001).

Table 6.4   Sustainable development across Europe: summary of Local Authorities’ Self-Assessment of Local Agenda 21 (LASALA) results

Instances of progress Continuing problems

•  Policies for utilizing renewable energy (led by Germany and Scandinavia)

•  Increases in car use and other forms of energy demand

•  Policies to improve air, water and soil quality

•  Continued urban decline

•  Introduction of sustainability principles into land-use plans

•  Limited regeneration of brownfield sites and continuing pressure to build on greenfield sites

•  New and innovative approaches to city planning

•  Low level of integration of sustainability principles across all policies and practices – LA21 is still too marginal

•  Encouragement of walking and cycling

•  Limited progress on overall monitoring of LA21

•  Some adoption of EMAS, precautionary principle and polluter pays principle by business

•  Insufficient stakeholder involvement in LA21 process

•  Adoption of sustainability indicators

•  Inadequate support from central government

Source: ICLEI (2001)

Experience in developing LA21 plans in major UK cities, including Bradford and London, suggests that popular interest in community-based projects is best secured by concentrating on tangible issues of immediate local concern, rather than engaging with more abstract concepts of sustainability (Saunders, 1997; Wagland, 1997). Selman (1996) has reviewed the conditions that have promoted greatest progress towards more effective planning for sustainable development. He concludes that the design and implementation of LA21 plans must be based upon a common understanding of the key issues amongst a broad range of participants and a commitment to communication, prioritizing transparency and accountability. Only in this way will appropriate and comprehensible goals be formulated, linked to existing structures and processes. Planning for more sustainable development requires flexibility and conflict resolution skills to ensure that a genuine consensus emerges. The definition of goals should provide clear evidence of the added value to be created through specific projects, rather than simply outlining a vague wish list. The planning process must be supported by adequate financial and administrative resources; but it is important that the community as a whole is actively involved in both design and execution. Clarity of direction is vitally important; but experts should be on tap, rather than on top. Progress towards sustainable development is not defined simply by the achievement of specific end points in terms of environmental restoration or employment creation. Rather, it involves an active process of change that builds new skills and institutional capacity within the home community, rather than relying heavily on outside expertise.

Paradoxically, in the UK, the LA21 process has been somewhat eclipsed since the implementation of the Local Government Act of 2000, which required councils to prepare community strategies to focus and coordinate their activities in promoting the well-being of their local communities. Some of those working on LA21 have expressed concerns that community planning, while encouraging fine-grained attention to local areas, often lacks the sense of thinking within a global context.

The ability to harness the power of people to help themselves often relies initially on the inspirational example of individual leadership. In Sweden the LA21 process is most advanced where high-profile local politicians, backed by key bureaucrats in strategic positions, have actively advanced issues of sustainability within their own community (Eckerberg and Forsberg, 1998; see also Chapter 9 in this volume). Academics have taken the lead in some instances – for example, in suburban Lima (Hordijk, 1999) and in Manizales, Colombia (Velásquez, 1999). The Orangi Pilot Project detailed below owes much to the vision of the founder, Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, and the innovative working methods adopted by his organization. In the Peruvian coastal city of Ilo, successive mayors have brought a positive and creative vision to bear upon the planning process. The Spanish term concertacion is used to encapsulate an ideal of community interaction based on flexibility, tolerance and unity. Concertacion is more than just consultation or coordination; it implies not only the involvement of all stakeholders in discussions, but also the achievement of agreed positions acceptable to all stakeholders. On this basis, Ilo has made substantial progress in integrating economic, social and environmental goals and in raising the quality of life of the majority of its citizens (Lopez Follegatti, 1999). Ilo is thus a reminder of the value of human resources, especially when applied collectively to the solution of urban problems. In the context of the developing world, where other resources are often scarce, the mobilization of a collective will for urban improvement may represent the best hope for positive change.

Urban Challenges in the Developing World

Meeting basic needs

However pressing concerns about socio-economic inequality appear within developed countries, differences in urban opportunities are still starker at a global scale. The vast majority of the 280 million urban dwellers without access to safe drinking water and the 590 million who lack sanitation infrastructure live in the global South (UNCHS, 1996). Thus, the concerns of urban planning and management in the developing world are frequently very basic. At the same time, the institutions of urban governance are often poorly developed, while financial resources are severely constrained. As a result, ‘the new urban agendas – the Global Strategy for Shelter and the new post-Rio UNCED environmentalism – are extremely difficult to convert into effective delivery systems and impossible in some countries where economies and states are collapsing’ (Pugh, 1997). In such circumstances it is impractical and ineffective to try to achieve sustainability goals through ambitious urban master plans, based on models of planning and management imported from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (Eigen, 1998; McAuslan, 1985; Nagpaul, 1988). Nor is it realistic to attempt to bring all aspects of urban structure and functions up to the standards expected in Northern cities (Anzorena et al, 1998; WRI, 1996). Instead, ‘low-tech’, lower-cost solutions are often the most effective means to promote sustainability. Moreover, heavy-handed control of the private sector rarely provides the answer to urban problems; as in the developed world, incentives to positive action are as important as regulation. Thus, it is increasingly recognized that the task of urban planners and managers is to support investment in people, infrastructure and economic activities, while preventing businesses, households and other organizations from passing on their own costs to others (Hardoy et al, 1992). This new equity and efficiency in urban management, however, creates its own demands for the radical restructuring of systems of governance in many Southern cities (Gilbert et al, 1996; Hordijk, 1999). The creation of greater urban democracy and new administrative competence is thus a crucial first step towards more sustainable development.

Even if this institutional foundation can be achieved, the scale and intensity of urban problems in the developing world highlight the difficulties of applying the Brundtland formulation of sustainable development. It seems hollow to talk of restricting current consumption to safeguard the interests of future generations when ‘those who are presently in abject poverty . . . will not have had their present needs met by tomorrow’ (Chapman and Thompson, 1995). Attempts to meet current demand for the basics of life imply greater immediate resource consumption, potentially prejudicing the quality of life for future generations. Yet social justice can tolerate no delay in making cities into places that allow their inhabitants greater security of income and quality of life (Stephens, 2000). Urban management priorities in the developing world are thus defined by the so-called ‘Brown agenda’: improving basic infrastructure to widen the delivery of water, energy, sanitation and waste collection in ways that are cost effective and resource efficient (Wyn Williams, 1997). If investments to reduce the environmental problems and health hazards that restrict the life chances of the urban poor are not made, there is little prospect that other sustainability goals – including environmental restoration and protection of biodiversity – can be met (Harpham and Werna, 1996).

Economic development to reduce current poverty is thus an essential aim in Southern cities. But the need to change the character of economic growth is as great here as anywhere else. The pursuit of growth will not be sustainable if it does not make efficient use of resources, whether financial, environmental or human. Moreover, attacking poverty without also challenging the increasingly pervasive culture of consumerism will not help to achieve sustainability. The urban poor currently contribute to environmental problems when, in the absence of effective sanitation systems, their waste pollutes urban watercourses, or they are forced to rely on elderly and polluting vehicles for transportation. But solutions can become problems if increased wealth leads to greater consumption and more waste (Wyn Williams, 1997; World Bank, 1992). The benefits of economic growth and investment in urban infrastructure must also be more equitably distributed than has hitherto been common. Such changes in the quality and outcome of economic growth reinforce claims that an inclusive, participatory approach is needed. Hence, the central challenge of planning for urban sustainable development arguably reflects the need to promote workable ways of involving as many people as possible in the active pursuit of social and environmental improvement as a foundation for secure and sustainable livelihoods.

Redefining appropriate action: the potential of community development

Viewed as a totality, the urban problems of the developing world may appear enormous and intractable. However, at the most local level – at a scale below that of entire towns and cities – there are positive signs of change. Progress is not universal, continuous or consistent, but it is being made. It may not be defined through comprehensive land-use planning or fully developed LA21 plans, but the quality of life for millions of urban dwellers is being improved in novel, integrated ways.

Where urban populations are growing rapidly, land for all uses is in short supply. Shortages are exacerbated by speculators, who buy up and hoard land, hoping for large profits on later resale. Consequently, individuals who cannot afford to buy or rent housing or land are often forced into illegal occupation (UNCHS, 1996). Millions live in low-quality dwellings on land to which they have no official right. Their problems are exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure, including sanitation, energy supplies, roads and other transport provision, often reflecting the unplanned nature of these settlements.

The effective coordination of development and the implementation of land-use planning is thus a key underlying factor in the achievement of a healthier population and economy. As McAuslan (1985) observes: ‘Land – its abuse, control and ownership – is the central problem of the city.’ This is not, however, to advocate large-scale redevelopment to remove illegal settlements, or to promote public and international investment in huge new road schemes and other infrastructure. Instead, it is an argument for finding ways of advancing development that is appropriate, in that it improves the quality of life for most ordinary people, and sustainable, in that it makes provision for the long term as well as the immediate future.

Until the 1970s, the main policy tools used to combat housing shortage and the illegal occupation of land were slum clearance and government provision of serviced plots or supposedly low-cost housing (UNCHS, 1996). But housing programmes could never keep pace with demand and the units provided were too costly for many of the poorest people. Moreover, planned residential developments were often located in urban districts far from employment opportunities. Subsequent diagnosis of continuing urban problems has concluded that such initiatives were flawed on two counts; first, because government institutions were incapable of managing rapid change, but, second and crucially, because they did not ‘tap the knowledge, resources and capacities among the population within each city’ (UNCHS, 1996). There is mounting evidence that greater success can be achieved by helping people to help themselves. This involves working with individuals, communities and businesses to establish basic rights over the land they occupy (Pugh, 1997) and helping to establish priorities for improving their quality of life; finding ways of enabling the people themselves to contribute towards upgrading the local area, the built environment and housing provision; and involving them in improving access to jobs, health, education and other essential services (Baharoglu, 1996; Harris, 1992; Hordijk, 1999; World Bank, 1991). The aim is thus to maximize local self-sufficiency. The poorest and most deprived urban residents must not, of course, be thrown entirely on their own reserves of finance, creativity and motivation. But intervention by national and local government should be limited, strategic and appropriate, rather than overbearing and unaffordable (Devas and Rakodi, 1993).

As part of this changing approach to the Brown agenda, attention has turned to land adjustment policies. These attempt to regularize squatter settlement and transfer title to the land, reflecting a recognition that people have nowhere else to go. Enabling strategies, often involving non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as government agencies, are designed to give urban residents access to the finance, building materials and know-how that will enable them to improve their own neighbourhoods. Such initiatives have many potential advantages. People who possess their own property are much more likely to invest time, money and effort, not just in improving individual dwellings, but also in upgrading infrastructure and services for the wider area. This should benefit the community as a whole, improving health, quality of life, social stability and life chances for children. Advances secured through community initiatives may also enhance a sense of self-worth and foster the mutual confidence necessary to undertake increasingly ambitious improvements. Communities can thus become more self-sustaining if a sufficiently enlightened and holistic approach is adopted. The gains, both tangible and intangible, are much greater than could be achieved through direct local authority provision of housing and infrastructure. The role of the municipal authority may also be redefined. The available funds and institutional capacity can be put to better use if local governments concentrate their efforts on establishing the highest level of infrastructure, including provision of sewage treatment plants, main roads, specialist hospitals and high schools, as well as securing land rights (Pugh, 1997).

Towards community development in practice: changing urban priorities in Karachi

The positive potential of a community-centred approach to urban improvement is evident from the success of specific projects where local residents have transformed their environment and quality of life. One of the best known of such examples is located in the Pakistani capital of Karachi. There are over 700 squatter settlements, or katchi abadis, in the city, together housing more than 50 per cent of the city’s 12 million people (Hasan, 2002). Katchi abadi residents are crowded into houses that are structurally unsafe, vulnerable to the effects of pollution and natural disasters, and lacking in basic amenities (Fernandes, 1994). Consequently, levels of ill health are high and living conditions are dismal and insanitary. The haphazard pattern of development and construction creates further obstacles to improvements in amenity provision (Kamal, 1993).

Until the 1980s, the most common governmental response was to attempt to destroy the katchi abadis. Bulldozing of slum areas was common and the land recovered was redeveloped for commercial profit. Little attention was devoted to the welfare of displaced populations and the newly homeless received no adequate compensation. Some alternative housing plots were provided; but these were, invariably, poorly serviced and far removed from the existing social networks and sources of livelihood of katchi abadi residents. Moreover, the number of new dwellings was grossly inadequate. The government initially planned to provide 300,000 housing units; but as a result of financial constraints only 10,000 were actually built. Even these were beyond the financial reach of the poorest of the poor.

The first signs of policy reform date from 1978, with the passage of a law regularizing the status of most existing katchi abadis as developed urban areas. Slums in locations deemed environmentally hazardous were, however, excluded, and clearance and evictions continued. The resultant protests led to the enactment of a revised law in 1983, extending the scope of regularization to all major settled areas. In 1987 the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority was established to coordinate community improvements. Its first tasks included mapping the existing developments, establishing ownership rights to property for residents and upgrading infrastructure provision. The authority provides a focus through which input from government agencies and NGOs can be channelled into basic environmental improvement, such as upgrading lanes and providing water, electricity and sanitation. At the same time, regularization was extended to cover any existing settlement on public land encompassing 40 or more households, excepting only those sites designated amenity land, liable to health hazards or transected by high-tension electricity cables. Subsequent progress has been slow; but the rate of evictions has fallen significantly. Some 101 squatter settlements were provided with basic amenities by 1995, funded jointly by the Pakistani government, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (Ministry of Environment, Urban Affairs, Forestry and Wildlife, 1996).

Although an improvement on previous slum clearance policies, experience in Karachi confirms the shortcomings of continuing reliance on government for service provision. The costs of officially planned infrastructure development are often prohibitive and experience has shown that even concerted lobbying by community groups cannot stimulate effective municipal responses. This reinforces arguments that community-built alternatives offer a better solution. Although many slum dwellers live below the poverty line, others can afford to contribute towards the costs of improving their environment. Moreover, while the sheer scale of the challenge will inevitably defeat any single, centralized attempt at improvement, important incremental progress can be made by the local provision of urban basic services. More can be achieved with the same limited financial resources if they are invested in community action, involving local people and providing them with technical expertise and organizational skills. Residents are thus enabled to construct a coherent overview of their own needs and the ways in which they can be involved in meeting them.

The Orangi Pilot Project

This participatory ethos is the guiding principle of a project located in Orangi, a squatter settlement on the north-west side of Karachi. Established in 1965, Orangi is home to 1.2 million people. Few residents are employed in the formal sector and most work for small family enterprises. The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was initiated during the early 1980s as a means of forging links between planning professionals, the informal sector and the wider community. The OPP considers itself to be a research institution, established to analyse Orangi’s major problems and, then, through prolonged action research and extension education, to discover viable solutions (Hasan, 1992).

Orangi residents themselves identified sanitation as the top priority for investment. Although some external funding was available for infrastructure improvements, it was recognized at the outset that resources were insufficient to pay for an officially executed sanitation scheme. However, costs could be drastically reduced if the local community were to become actively involved in providing the labour for construction. This effort was coordinated by the OPP, which organized fundraising and advised on the most cost-effective materials and methods. But it is noteworthy that the work proceeded without a master plan.

Community organizations were created based on the lanes within Orangi, which each contain 20 to 30 households. These formed the basic units for the coordination of collective labour, supported by extension work which has, for example, shown people how to mix concrete and communicated basic skills in sewage engineering. As a result, the majority of the investment and work has been put in by the residents. Lanes now organize themselves, maintaining the newly installed sewage system with the support of advisors from the OPP. The project’s leaders can thus claim success in demonstrating:

. . . that the dilemma of modernizing sanitation in katchi abadis can be solved by mobilizing managerial and financial resources of the house owners themselves by providing them with social and technical assistance (Hasan, 1992).

Families have been enabled to construct their own modern sanitation systems, with connections to main sewers. But even more important is the extension of the momentum of neighbourhood organization to secure other objectives. Residents have established a low-cost housing programme that aims to improve construction standards. They have also made provision for basic healthcare and family planning. This includes an element of preventative care, including immunization against disease and efforts to improve diet by growing vegetables within the community. The need to increase security of household incomes has been addressed through the establishment of a supervised credit programme. This is designed to fund increased production and employment, while inculcating managerial skills and business integrity. Attempts to redress the particular vulnerability of female labour are evident in women’s work centres, which organize seamstresses and other garment workers into co-operatives that can deal directly with wholesalers and exporters. Importance is also attached to education provision: Orangi contains nearly 600 private schools and the OPP is involved in upgrading buildings, equipment and teaching standards (Hasan, 1992).

Such a broad-based approach covers many key elements of sustainable development. Effort is focused on improving the quality of the immediate environment; but the indirect effects of the OPP contribute to the reduction of environmental damage, and water and air pollution, far beyond the confines of the individual locality. The community’s own resources are mobilized, reducing the waste of human resources and creating a new sense of individual and collective self-reliance that provides a foundation for future initiatives. There is also a conscious attempt to strike a balance between immediate gains in the quality of life and investment in improving future conditions. In attending to employment creation, education, healthcare and disease prevention, the community and the OPP are making long-term plans. If Orangi shows what can be done in a particular locality, the challenge remains of replicating such initiatives throughout the numberless urban neighbourhoods of the developing world. Orangi is far from being an isolated success story; other bottom-up projects of urban renewal and community development can be quoted (Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, 2001; Dutta, 2000; Gaye and Diallo, 1997; Gaye et al, 2001; Moctezuma, 2001). But substantial progress towards more sustainable development will only be secured if the advances enjoyed in Orangi come to be shared by the majority of urban residents.

Communicating Good Practice

Translating the initiative displayed within the most innovative and organized urban communities into a general experience will be no easy task; but already substantial effort is being invested in developing national and international networks for communicating best practice. Support for such initiatives is evident at the highest levels of global diplomacy with the creation of the UN Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP) (Eigen, 1998) and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI, 1995). The ideal of common endeavour fostered by LA21 has also encouraged cities themselves to establish new networks and partnerships, including links, such as those between projects in Canada and Brazil, that connect the developed and developing worlds (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 2002). The EU provides an important forum for international discussion (Expert Group on the Urban Environment, 1996) and within the UK the Local Government Management Board (now the Improvement and Development Agency) has taken a leading role in encouraging an active commitment to sustainable development amongst local authorities (Percy, 1998).

Exchanges, meetings and conferences help to promote productive discussion of the means of achieving more sustainable development. Since 1989 the journal Environment and Urbanization has gathered together and disseminated many inspiring case studies and overviews from around the world. The creation of an international community of interests is also increasingly facilitated by new information technologies. The late 1990s saw an explosion of websites crowded with information about innovative ideas and projects. The UN Centre for Human Settlements has also produced an important synthesis of current understanding of urban development in a major volume, An Urbanizing World, published to coincide with the Habitat conference on human settlements, held in Istanbul in 1996 (UNCHS, 1996). This is not only a masterly presentation of the complexities of urban conditions and trends across the globe, but also a demonstration of the ways in which human settlements can be made more sustainable. It cites many instances where international organizations, governments, NGOs and community groups have successfully tackled urban problems in holistic ways and delivered sustainable improvements in quality of life. A further volume (UNCHS, 2001) updates the analysis of problems, policies and their outcomes.

Equally important are the multiplicity of handbooks outlining initiatives to make cities more environmentally sound and socially secure places in which to live (see, for example, Carley et al, 2001; Elkin et al, 1991; Gilbert et al, 1996; Girardet, 1992). Increasing effort is also being invested in the projection of future urban scenarios that clarify the scale and direction of change necessary to secure more sustainable development. The potential role of urban modelling in this attempt to introduce a new precision into the assessment of best practice is detailed by Mitchell in Chapter 5. Elsewhere, Ravetz (2000) outlines the results of a huge and impressive analysis of the Manchester city-region, highlighting the differences between the ‘business as usual’ and sustainability scenarios. A novel feature of this work is the adoption of a 20-year horizon, rather than the 5 or 10 years typically employed in local and regional planning. The work is now being expanded to consider possible, probable and desirable outcomes up to 2050 (University of Manchester, 2002). Arguably, this kind of thinking will have to be adopted by planners and citizens if effective, holistic policies are to be put in place (Saunders, 2001).

Making the Local Universal: A Concluding Reflection

The attempts to locate local initiatives within a wider context serve as a reminder of the universalistic aims of sustainable development. Improvement in quality of life for some people should not result in the problems of others being ignored or exacerbated. All urban neighbourhoods and citizens must share in the progress towards sustainable development. But more than this, ‘the environmental performance of cities has to improve not only in terms of improved environmental quality within their boundaries, but also in terms of reducing the transfer of environmental costs to other people, other ecosystems and to the future’ (Satterthwaite, 1997).

This acknowledgement of the world beyond the boundaries of the urban is important, not least because it raises questions about the whole conception of urban sustainability. Urban centres seem inherently parasitic, bound to consume resources from a wide area and produce waste and pollution that cannot be contained within their own boundaries. As those involved in producing ‘Green accounts’ have found, it is impossible to assess the environmental impacts of individual cities precisely because so many of their activities draw upon, and have repercussions for, areas far beyond the immediate administrative region (see Chapter 5). This is not simply a reflection of the concentration of consumption by a city’s own permanent residents; many urban functions fulfil the demands of a wider regional population. It might be questioned, for example, whether a city should be held responsible for all of the environmental costs of an international airport located within its administrative area.

Even with the most organized and committed of approaches to environmental goals, the ecological footprint of a city cannot be contained within its own boundaries. In this sense the individual city can never be sustainable. Thus, a more fruitful approach may be to accept that improved environmental performance ‘is not achieved by focusing on sustainable cities, but on how city consumers, enterprises and governments can contribute more to sustainable development’ (Satterthwaite, 1997). Efforts to reduce waste and pollution, to increase the efficiency of energy consumption and resource use, and to change the quality of economic development and the equity with which its rewards are distributed cannot simply be seen as discrete urban projects. Their importance is in the contribution that they make to wider sustainability at every scale, including the global. In practice, the transition to more sustainable development cannot be realized through the creation of individual ‘islands’ of self-sustaining perfection. The extent to which sustainability is imported and exported can, and should, be reduced; but both the physical and the economic reality of an interconnected world dictate that North and South, states and their neighbours, urban and rural are bound together in any journey towards sustainability. As Wilbanks (1994) has observed, it is impossible for anywhere to be truly sustainable until this ideal is achieved everywhere.

Such an argument does not, however, preclude continuing attention to a distinctively urban agenda. The form and functions of towns and cities must be reassessed not just in relation to the resource efficiencies demanded by the wider project of sustainable development, but also with the objective of making urban centres better places in which to live (Elkin et al, 1991). The ideal of the ‘liveable city’ is thus more than a manifestation in the built environment of the need to cut resource use and pollution production; it is a place in which people feel at home and enjoy living. This requires attention to standards of urban design, starting with the basics of shelter, sanitation and safety, but embracing considerations of social community and environmental quality. Buildings must be designed to be efficient and attractive spaces for living and working. The urban plan should also incorporate green areas for recreation and relaxation, as well as making a contribution to the preservation of biodiversity.

As this chapter has argued, however, a liveable city is as much about people as it is about physical fabric. Given sufficient financial resources and the political space within which to realize their full potential, residents themselves are not simply the beneficiaries of urban improvement, but the collective agents of its definition and achievement. This is the message embodied both in the specific example of the Orangi project and in the wider participatory ideal of LA21. In his 1995 BBC Reith Lectures, the architect Richard Rogers also emphasized that cities can be reinvigorated and made attractive as places in which to live and work by an emphasis on contact and community, rather than on separation and selfishness. The city should be ‘open minded’, rather than ‘single minded’, replacing the pursuit of individual property owners’ objectives with active encouragement for the involvement of citizens in determining and achieving priorities for urban improvement (Rogers, 1997). Ultimately, urban form and the encouragement of this spirit of community may be linked. Rogers is a supporter of the notion of the compact city, extending its principles to the design of individual buildings, public spaces and whole neighbourhoods. His approach has social and political dimensions that go beyond any narrowly defined concentration on design for spatial efficiency. Rogers advocates creating residential layouts that are not simply energy efficient in their incorporation of safe and easy access for cyclists and pedestrians, but also form the foundations for a high environmental and social quality of life. This accords with the design principles set out by Punter and Carmona (1997), who argue that layouts should ‘maximise the level of local autonomy’ and include a linked series of safe and usable public spaces that ‘respect the natural qualities of the site and create a clear sense of place’.

Rogers concluded his series of lectures by advancing the aim of achieving:

. . . a new and dynamic equilibrium between society, cities and nature. Participation, education and innovation are the driving forces of the sustainable society . . . With vigilance and popular determination the concept of sustainability will grow in importance until it becomes the dominant philosophy of our age (Rogers, 1997).

Such declamatory statements raise many questions about the reality of the potential for change. As other authors (see Chapters 4 and 9) in this volume show, it is not always easy to mobilize ‘popular determination’ in support of sustainable development. Nor are existing political authorities necessarily willing or able to play a constructive part in the search for more sustainable development, either by supporting individual communities in their efforts to create a better quality of life, or by advancing a strategic overview of sustainability targets. It is clear that there can be no complete break with the past, either in terms of the distribution of political and economic power within urban areas, or in the inheritance of urban forms and functions. There is a long way to go before sustainable development criteria are instinctively incorporated into daily decision-making.

Yet Rogers’s optimism is not entirely misplaced. Change, albeit piecemeal, is gradually altering mindsets, the structure and functioning of institutions, and individual and corporate behaviour. Rather than expecting sudden and total transformation, it is now understood that a more pragmatic approach will yield better results. Rather than attempting to sweep away urban systems or to contain urban growth, it should be possible to target sustainability initiatives in time and space on the points at which they will do most good. Sustainable development itself may still be a weak agent of urban change, but it is possible to work within the existing dynamic of urban growth and renewal to create a more sustainable environment. Thus, as cities are extended and redeveloped to accommodate new demands, they are increasingly being planned, built and managed in ways that curb growth in the consumption of energy and other resources, check waste output and improve quality of life. Such changes reflect an emergent regulatory and fiscal context in which social and environmental standards become more exacting and greater efforts are made to define the true costs of economic activity. The role of technology is also changing from a narrow focus on the promotion of economic growth to the achievement of a new form of development that seeks a better balance between costs and benefits. At the same time, there are signs that urban institutions are being recast as the ideal of sustainable development becomes integrated within policy-making. Businesses, community groups and individual residents are being encouraged to take an active role in setting priorities for economic, social and environmental policy. They must also come to understand how small-scale changes in behaviour, resource use and urban design are the ultimate building blocks for achieving a total global project of sustainable development.