21/06/2012 05:30 BST | Updated 20/08/2012 06:12 BST

Cities: Social Time-Bombs

"Cities are magnets. Cities are also social time-bombs." A panel of ten leading built environment experts met, on Monday June 18, to discuss the vital issues for our world's burgeoning cities.

The panel discussed the ten prescribed priorities for urban sustainability including waste management, energy efficiency, public space creation, equality and citizen participation. Interestingly, it was what was missing that generated discussion on:

Peace is necessary for the presence of true sustainability, stated David Cadman. The inequality and disrupt caused by unrest inevitably leads to destruction of infrastructure and social systems, and the excess consumption of resources.

Disaster Resilience provides a platform for sustainability in response to climate change, which is increasingly affecting people as the move into high risk areas.

Natural Environments need to be respected.It costs much more to replicate what nature does than to simply allow it to exist. The cheapest infrastructure is nature. Equally, other lands within cities needs to be preserved for food production, biodiversity and public space. Mixed land use will mean greater efficiency and independence from regional resources.

The Development Model needs to be challenged. Developers' funding must be excluded from the political process. Politicians should only be accountable to the people. Money can't solve everything and we should examine the idea of retro-fitting as opposed to simply new growth.

Public participation is vital in local sustainability processes and easy access to expert knowledge is vital. Alejandro Aravena stated "Information is easily available. Knowledge is not. We need to transform information into knowledge" in referring to the need for an inclusive, practical process.

Dignity is the greatest social priority when addressing the adverse conditions one billion slum dwellers face today. Dignity allows self-empowerment and combats the growing gap between rich and poor. Without dignity one cannot consume, cannot produce and cannot contribute intellectual capital.

Poverty. When the poor are becoming poorer, and the rich are becoming richer, sustainability.

Implementation needs to be measured and checked. Oded Grajew pushed the need for metrics that would hold governments accountable. "Words are cheap, actions are expensive." Aravena stressed the need for looking at successful examples of sustainable cities, "The best education there is, is what people have already done."

The panel appeared tired with central governmental processes. They reiterated broad sustainability practices relating to poverty and the environment, whilst also calling for realistic checks to these declarations. Cadman summed it up, "Governments: Cities are doing it, you are not. Stop talking, do it now."


By Sam Bowstead, photo by Linh Do.