Sustainability and the reframing of the world city

Authored by: Stephen Zavestoski

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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When Klaus Toepfer, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), claimed in 2005 that “the battle for sustainable development, for delivering a more environmentally stable, just and healthier world, is going to be largely won and lost in our cities,” he articulated a concern for sustainable urbanism that has now become a centerpiece of the sustainability movement. 1 Moreover, Toepfer recognized that growth—of economies, of populations, of urban areas—has had a mixed but largely negative impact on many of the world’s city-dwellers, especially in the Global South. Although the United Nations (UN) helped establish the concept of sustainable development, which often and awkwardly paired together social and environmental wellbeing with the desire for more growth, in the twenty-first century UN representatives and others in the world of sustainability have come to see the growth imperative as deeply problematic. This enduring commitment to growth, when viewed through the prism of our global ecological crisis and a rapidly urbanizing world, has compelled Toepfer and others like him to rethink the role of cities in the vision for a sustainable society.

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