Monthly Archives: April 2014

Silver Bullets: Cyclical Efforts to Bring the Private Sector “Back In”

The timeline below explores the history and development of the Euclid Avenue corridor on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. Euclid Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods have experienced the full complement of federal and local “development” programs and offer a window into both the intended and unintended consequences of elite-led development programming. As a result, the story of Euclid Avenue resonates far beyond the city of Cleveland. While city planners and their allies across the public, private, and voluntary sectors often enthusiastically touted the latest development plan for struggling neighborhoods, this  history suggests that officials have in actuality drawn upon a narrow menu of policies and initiatives. This story also conveys a rather constricted vision for urban thriving, both in terms of paths forward and of the constituencies included.


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What are the Challenges of the City today?

For centuries, social theorists worried about urbanization and its consequences for social life.  While many of their most dire fears never materialized, pressing questions about cities and city life still remain. On March 21, the Urbanization Project from New York University’s Stern School of Business brought together popular urbanist  Richard Florida, economist Paul Romer, and sociologist Robert Sampson for a panel on “The Challenge of the City.” All three speakers have made significant contributions to our understanding of cities in recent decades, and their discussion addressed many of the challenges and opportunities for cities in the next hundred years.

Each speaker recognized that the long-term challenges of urbanization will continue: by 2100 the world’s population may approach 11 billion people, with a projected 75 percent living in urban centers. Urban studies from the latter part of the 20th century revealed how structural shifts in economic production and growth produced persistent disadvantage in cities.  So far, the cities of the 21st century still contain areas of concentrated affluence and concentrated disadvantage—what Florida calls the “compression of inequality.” Sampson’s research into “neighborhood effects” highlights one key aspect of this trend: inter-generational transmission of disadvantage in certain areas. Inequality, he shows, persists even amidst significant residential turnover, pointing to the durability of structural and cultural factors that shape life outcomes. Such deeply rooted problems, which have afflicted cities for decades already, loom large for anyone concerned with the future of urban thriving over the coming years.

The event was co-sponsored by the NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the Marion Institute on Cities and Urban Environments.

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Globalization and Urban Pollution

iStock_000012611934Small

(Source: iStockphotos)

 

What happens when a citizen sues his own city over air pollution?  We may soon find out in China. 

Li Guixin, a citizen of Shijiazhuang, a city about three hours southwest of Beijing, recently submitted a formal complaint to a district court asking, according to Reuters,

… the city’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to ‘perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law’, the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said. He is also seeking compensation from the agency for residents for the choking pollution that has engulfed Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.

New York Times Chart of Fossil Fuel  Consumption

(Source: New York Times)

Given China’s widespread environmental problems, Li’s actions do not seem that surprising. Air pollution in Chinese cities is so severe that the New York Times has dedicated a special section to it.  A recent article from the Times cited a study published by a Chinese state-run think tank that actually deemed Beijing unfit for human habitation. Not surprisingly, that study was soon censored by the Chinese government. Another article revealed that only three out of 74 Chinese cities actually had “healthy air” in 2013. Pollution in China is a result of complex factors related to population growth,  industrial expansion, public-private corruption, and high levels of fossil fuel consumption. Even as coal use in the US decreases, it grew on average 8 percent annually during the past decade in China. According to the most recent data, China now consumes nearly  four times as much coal as the US.

(Credit iStockpotos)

(Credit iStockpotos)

Recently, the World Health Organization released a report that indicted toxic air pollution for 3.7 million deaths worldwide. Though China is currently taking steps to curb its smog epidemic, such as giving monetary rewards to cities and regions that reduce their pollution, the untold environmental, health, and social consequences will take some time to assess. China’s urban pollution woes, though extreme, are hardly unique. Even developed Western cities are struggling to reduce their smog. Just last month, Paris briefly made public transportation free in an effort to reduce air pollutants from automobiles. Although the United Sates has been able to relocate some of its dirtiest industries oversees, what people on the West Coast (no strangers to smog) are quickly realizing is that the effects of air pollution cannot be restricted to one city or or one country–or even to one continent. In a study published in January, scientists discovered that emissions in China can be carried across the Pacific to US shores, thanks to powerful global winds. Researchers say that Los Angeles experiences on average one extra day of bad air per year because of Chinese factories.  The next time a Chinese city is sued over its pollution, the plaintiff may be a resident of Los Angeles. When it comes to curbing drastic levels of urban pollution, there are no technological silver bullets. With the world quickly urbanizing, cities and their denizens will have to work individually and collectively to press for new laws and accountability measures–and to see that they are enforced.  The question then remains: Who will step up and take responsibility for the future ecological health of our growing cities? In China, we will soon find out.

 

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