The term ‘Sustainable Development’ was first introduced as part of the Brundtland Report in 1987. It was defined as; “Development that meets the needs of society today without compromising future generations to meet their own needs”. This was later discussed at the UN Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, where two other ‘agendas’ were constructed in order to improve sustainability worldwide. The first was Agenda 21, which encouraged locally based projects and the second was The Brown Agenda which stated that the solution to improving developing cities was to focus on different aspects of the environment. This included, providing clean water and shelter as well as managing air pollution, noise and safety standards.
In 2000, the UN developed goals to be achieved by the year 2020; this mainly consisted of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. Furthermore, in trying to make megacities more sustainable, the term ‘ecological footprint’ has emerged. This is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It compares human demand with Earth’s ecological ability to regenerate it and it is important for individuals to work towards reducing their ecological footprint in order to improve sustainability in large, urbanised megacities.
In Mumbai, India the rate of growth is quite rapid. A lot of Hyper-urbanisation has occurred, resulting in their being a divide in the economy. The middle-upper class professionals contribute towards the formal economy while the lower class market traders make up the informal economy, which also creates a strong social divide. The majority of the lower-class slum dwellers live in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest shanty towns. It is located between Mumbai’s two main suburban railway lines and is home to over 2.5 million people. Dharavi produces over $500 million worth of goods and has several different built-up industries within its borders. There are also self-help clinics, food halls and community centres that have been built to improve the sense of community in the shanty town.
The government in Mumbai have created a plan called ‘Vision Mumbai’ to tackle the city’s problems and make it more sustainable. It aims to reduce poverty, improve housing and transport and increase employment opportunities as well as transform the environment with the intention of making it greener. Consequently, Slum dwellers are being moved to new seven storey-apartments resulting in 45,000 shanty towns being destroyed across the city along with a new metro line, which will be completed by 2011 and an elevated highway. NGO’s are building 325 open spaces to improve the environment as well as the government creating over 400,000 jobs in healthcare, finance, entertainment, the fashion industry, computer assembly and in the airport. There will also be an increase in employment in construction to build the ‘vision’. It is likely that 500,000 jobs will be created, however these will only be semi-permanent.
The growth of Los Angeles, USA, has presented many problems, (such as housing shortages, unemployment and pollution) which have provoked the government to design a plan to make the further growth of LA more sustainable. This is known as PLAN (Progressive Los Angeles Network). PLAN aims to improve transport, the urban environment, food/nutrition, economic development and worker’s rights. The main focus of PLAN, however, is to enhance the environment by cleaning it up and making it greener. This is being achieved through the increase in urban parks and clean fuel vehicles as well as the promotion of smart growth land use where people can drive less and live nearer to their workplace; school/college and local centre for entertainment and shopping.
PLAN are cleaning up contaminated Brownfield sites and are encouraging safe; walk-able, bike-able neighbourhoods. Amongst this transformation of the urban environment, public transport is being upgraded with the introduction of new rapid bus lines and worker’s rights have advanced by illegalising the payment of an indecent wage. PLAN’s proposals for a sustainable city involve using alternative fuels to carbon dioxide and methane as well as addressing the city’s water source. These two significant contributions towards the sustainability of LA will ensure that it becomes a much safer and healthier place to be a resident of.
Dongtan is a new eco-city being developed in the east of China, on the country’s third largest island. It is not a megacity; however it has the potential to mature once it has been built up. Dongtan can be described as an ecopolis meaning that it is an entire city dedicated to reducing the required inputs, of energy, water and food in addition to its waste output of heat, carbon dioxide, methane and water pollution, making it exceedingly sustainable. Dongtan aims to produce its own energy from wind, solar, bio-fuel and recycled city waste, for example solar-powered taxis and fuel-cell-driven buses. Hydro-electric power will also be a main form of energy, generated by the numerous canals and lakes that will run through the city.
Arup, the company designing Dongtan, want to create a high-quality environment that gives a higher standard of living to the local people and to future generations. This will be accomplished by combining modern western medical practises with Chinese herbal medicine along with providing employment for all of the island’s residents. Transport is also a key issue in developing an eco-city, as the most efficient and green way of travelling will have to be set up, so that vehicles will emit as little carbon dioxide as possible. Arup is also focussing on making Dongtan a place where companies will want to set up or move to and they are working towards tourism industries.
Nevertheless, creating a modern ecopolis comes at a very expensive price. The cost of Dongtan will rise into double-digit billions causing China to fall into serious debt. This will have a negative effect on the residents of Dongtan, who have moved there for a better quality of life, yet will be faced with high taxes. In the development of Dongtan, the local people have not been considered since Arup concentrates on encouraging people to migrate to the area and tourism. However, community spirit will increase as residents will have to interact more in the new open spaces, walkways and community centres. In the building of Dongtan, semi-permanent jobs will be available to the new residents, but if the plan to influence companies to set-up in Dongtan is successful, then there should be a sufficient amount of permanent jobs for everybody.
The Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, a mature megacity in Brazil, are facing an extreme social problem. Violent gangs and drug dealers dominate the streets making Favelas a very dangerous place to live. The government have created the Favela Bairro Project which plans to clean up the slums and Favelas that occupy the majority of Rio by making them permanent and by giving the people living there the tools to improve their lifestyles. The government have tried to educate the Favela residents in utilising their existing skills to get jobs, this has been successful however, there are still many people participating in crime.
AffroReggae is an NGO, a hip-hop band and a social movement that is 30% self-sustaining and aims to improve life within Favelas in Rio. Anderson Sa, a former drugs trafficker, began the organisation when an incident made him realise that he did not want a life subject to crime. AffroReggae raises awareness of life in Favelas through talks, concerts and events but they are also a permanent presence in the slums to mediate between rival drug factions as well as employ residents in music, IT and cultural projects. They are a group which are likely to be entirely self-sufficient within the next ten years and are trying to make a significant impact on Favela life. Rio is becoming more sustainable with the development of Favelas into small towns. The improvement in housing, education and sanitation will help a lot of people to live a better quality of life and hopefully, this will ultimately reduce the amount of misconduct within the shanty towns.
Mumbai, Los Angeles, Dongtan and Rio de Janeiro are four extremely diverse places. Yet, they all want to achieve sustainability within the next few years. There are many contrasts between LA for example, an established megacity and world city that is trying to become cleaner and greener compared with Dongtan, which is not a city yet but is being built sustainably from scratch. There are some similarities between Mumbai and Rio. Both cities are trying to become more sustainable by clearing out slum-dwellers and have NGO’s trying to assist with the struggle.
With all the stress over the impact that humans are having on the planet and what conditions will be like in the future, it is necessary to start practising more sustainable and eco-friendly ways of living. Sustainable Development is all about meeting our needs without compromising the needs of future generations, meaning that if humans continue to live their lives as if dozens of Earth’s are supporting us then they will be jeopardising their grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s survival. We need to be more efficient with the energy we use and the energy that we waste, in order to ensure a safe and stable environment for the future.