Urban Planning for Sustainable Development: The 21st Century Challenge

by Gabriela Ponce Guerrero, Ecuador (in Switzerland), ELP 2015
Written on July 10, 2015.

Image icongaby-1-e1441732474749-300x245_2.pngUrban planning is one of the complex issues that needs to be addressed all around the globe. The ELP participants had the opportunity to learn more about this challenging topic in the lecture given by Professor Karen Chapple. She looked at the California’s regional planning to highlight some of the trends and major concerns. She mentioned how the 20th century challenge revolved around the suburbs, the required infrastructure and contribution to climate change due to urban sprawl.

When we talked about sustainable development, we tend to forget that sustainability is also a question of justice and equity. Professor Chapple mentioned how important it is to look at equity when we discuss urban planning. Equity is not only a question of outcomes but also process. An equitable process requires the democratization of planning by including the different stakeholders.

Image icongaby-2-300x298_2.jpgDuring the lecture, we discussed the transition from the suburban dream, when people choose to move outside the city for comfort, to lower income citizens being displaced from the cities. In fact, the 21st century challenge is affordable housing since livable cities are becoming more and more expensive. Even though housing supply is increasing the properties are getting less affordable. The British journalist Owen Jones recently discussed how property developers are one of the major drivers for social inequality. Jones states that in inner London, over 70% of the average wage goes to rent. Moreover, it is not uncommon to have immediate rent hikes where if you are not able to pay you have to move somewhere else. New housing projects are being developed in neighborhoods with the highest rates of poverty. Unfortunately, the goal is not to provide affordable housing but to build luxury homes that any of the previous residents could afford, leading to social apartheid.

Every country and every city has its own set of challenges, opportunities and limitations when it comes to urban planning for both sustainable and equitable development. Yet many of the problems and trends can be seen in most of the cities in every continent. Getting to know the strategies which are used in other regions is a good start to face this complex issue.