The challenge of transforming our societies may lie in tackling complex questions which pit ecological protection against social justice, or vice versa. On the other hand, there may also be synergistic solutions where progress in environmental protection is accompanied by social justice - these are the social-ecological transformations that cities should strive for.
Three key sectors to drive a social-ecological transformation
Such synergies are explored in this report, focusing on three sectors that are crucial in driving these social ecological transformations in urban settings, namely, built environment, transport and the public participation sectors. For instance, in the built environment sector, this means instituting energy efficiency into all new construction as this is more cost-effective than retrofitting existing buildings. It means ensuring that those living in informal settlements benefit from access to affordable and secure housing that integrates climate adaptation and energy efficiencies, but also recognises that wealthier population groups are far greater contributors to emissions and their housing should be built to minimise energy consumption too.
In the transport sector, promoting active and public transportation modes will not only help achieving the carbon targets of cities, but also make the city more liveable and just for the working poor in cities, who actively use these modes of transport to access work opportunities, and suffer most from car-centric investments. Special consideration also needs to be given to the accessibility requirements of particular population groups, from those with limited mobility, to groups who may face safety concerns.
Effective urban planning plays an essential role in ensuring urban areas develop in ways which consider equity alongside development – too often, the poorest live furthest away from their places of work and from green spaces. Social-ecological transformations in cities warrant a deeper context-specific analysis of ‘who wins and who loses’ as a result of urban transitions. We therefore call for integrating the needs of low-income groups, women and elderly, amongst others, in the city development process.
Urbanization of the pandemic
The current pandemic, has, at great social and economic cost, also presented opportunities for policymakers, industries and individuals to rethink unsustainable patterns of consumption and unequal distribution of development. It has highlighted the inequalities and injustices rampant in Asian cities, from deficient migrant housing conditions to misappropriation of the crisis to forestall participatory planning processes. It is time for initiatives towards green infrastructure or sustainable development in cities to step beyond a short-term, project-based approach towards long-term, structural shifts for social-ecological change.
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