Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Sustainable City" is an oxymoron

The term "Sustainable City" is an oxymoron. And will remain so for as long as metrocentrics continue to regard their city as separate to the environment. They try to balance economic, social and environmental outcomes by separating them rather than mixing them together. They gather exclusive economic and social outcomes to themselves while the ecological outcomes, and their costs, are apportioned almost exclusively to areas outside the cities. And they then criticise the overburdened farmers for excessive whinging.

The metrocentrics bear the environmental costs associated with their economic and social benefits and simplistically reason that rural folk should not complain about their lot because they enjoy compensating environmental benefits. That may be so, but health, education and most other attributes of what we regard as quality of life still cost as much, if not more, in the bush.

A truly sustainable Sydney CBD would have vegetated buffers by the Tank Stream. Building heights would be set by the height of the adjacent Blackbutts and there would still be a beach at circular quay. Instead, there is concrete everywhere. And to compensate for this failure, and to maintain a self delusion of environmental sensitivity, the workers in Phillip Street apply regulations that preclude even the most temporary of disturbances within 20 to 100 metres of any farmer's creek bank.

The urban public must understand that the essence of sustainability is balance between economic, social and environmental values and that, by definition, must incorporate limits on scale and intensity.It is the disproportion in the scale and intensity of urban living that contributes most to environmental degradation. Any excess of atmospheric CO2 is not caused by the exhaust emissions of a farmer, or farmers collectively, because their emissions are at a scale that actually fertilise their trees and pastures. There is no compensating absorbtion of urban emissions. Enter Global Warming.

Urban existence need not follow the London, LA to Mexico City model. The Swiss, with their autonomous States (Cantons) and small, high density but socially nourishing cities that remain in touch with their hinterland, are so much closer to a sustainable balance.

Any increase in population in our existing capitals comes at much greater cost than any benefit. We all know that the solution is effective decentralisation but that would require an admission by the cities to themselves as primary cause of their problem. The question is; Are our cities already too far gone to help themselves?

First posted by Perseus, Saturday, 3 June 2006 5:57:11 PM


At June 05, 2006 10:19 pm, Blogger cow cocky said...

Sustainable city is an interesting term. If anything is sustainable I assume the term means it is self sufficient or at least supplies all its own needs (energy, food, resources etc)If it does not then it is not a Sustainable city but a sustainable region or whatever.
To examine all the ways a sustainable city would need to supply its own needs will result in very few things being identified as coming 100% from within that city. The vast majority of the food comes from rural areas, the majority of the oxygen consumed comes from vegetation outside the city, the majority of the energy comes from outside the city, the raw building materials & the raw materials of all goods from rural places and manufactured in other places.

It`s time to shoot the term sustainable city down in flames. No city will ever be.

At June 05, 2006 11:38 pm, Blogger Ian Mott said...

Very interesting, isn't it cocky. If we use the broadest test of sustainability as;

"If everyone did as I do then could we all continue to do it",

Then clearly, if everyone moved to a city then neither the city nor the environment would survive.

But it is equally clear that the urban community has recognised that they cannot continue to do what they do without imposing serious restrictions on the activities of everyone else.

Don't you just love a double standard?


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