Sustainability is a choice, and it does not contradict with economic development / SDGs -8,9, and 11 _Part A

Sustainability is a choice, and it does not contradict with economic development -Part A

SDGs -8,9, and 11 (economy, innovative infrastructure and sustainable urban-rural development)

Original Article: Ms. Sara Yeh
Translated by: Eden Social Welfare Foundation

“For the first time in human history, the world’s population is increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas”, according to the American economist, Jeffery Sachs.

Although there is 150,000 years of human history, large advances in economic development and the growth of living standard only happened within the past 250 years. More precisely, it all happened after British Industrial Revolution when James Watt improved steam engine technology in 1776.

The stagnant living standard of the period of 150,000 years had been transformed by the capital accumulation and the innovation of technologies following the Industrial Revolution. The world entered the era of aviation to the era of knowledge economy through innovations including steam engine, railways and steel industry followed by the invention of electricity, automobiles and petrochemical products. The capital accumulation began from the improvement of agriculture technology, which leads to a large amount of surplus food, leading to urban cities supported by services and industries.

The existence of urban cities translated into the growth of productivity, creativity and service industries. Unlike rural villages, urban cities are more densely populated, human interactions and corporations more constant. Therefore, the economic activities that takes face-to-face communications were established. Furthermore, research labs, development centers, higher education, the comprehensive knowledge and information enabled cities to be the cradle of innovation, design, research and development. New innovations and breakthroughs improved agricultural technology and productivity, bringing more and more population into the cities. With the constant rise of populations, urban centers grew even larger with the population of more than tens of millions.

The increased population of the cities brought in the transformation in terms of politics, economy, society and culture. In terms of politics, the gap between the urban and the rural were expanded by taking advantages of budget allocation and adjustments of administrative boundaries; in terms of economy, labor forces from traditional industries such as agriculture, forestry, fishery and animal husbandry had switched to manufacturing and service industries; in terms of society, the urban cities had formed the different population structure and expanded integration between different ethnicities and class; in terms of culture, urban living style and consumer culture had become the trend, which edged the preserved traditional culture in rural areas.    

Only 1/10 of the global population lived in urban cities before the industrial revolution. According to the statistics from the UN, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas today, a proportion that is expected to increase to 67 percent by 2050.  Human lives experienced fundamental and dramatic changes in terms of lifestyle, production, to economy and trade within the course of 250 years.

What supported the lives of millions and billions of population and maintained the productivity to 2-3 times higher than rural areas, was the infrastructures of the cities. Implementing sufficient food and water supplies to places with no food productions, supply power and energy, transportation, waste recycling and management, disease control and prevention, public management, as well as disaster prevention and mitigation, all became challenges to the design infrastructure of cities. Moreover, the increasing population is demanding for more resources, the imbalanced resource allocation and over capital accumulation created “disparity”, “classes”, “wealth inequality” as the substance of those critical changes, pushing the practice of SDGs 8,9,11 to an urgent issue. 


photo credit: Andrew Haimerl @ Unsplash

SDGs 8: Decent work and economic growth

Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all

SDGs 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

SDGs 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Sustainable development is not incompatible with economic growth

In Taiwan, environmental issues are usually being weighed on the same scale with economic development, making it a struggle over priorities. However, to Professor Liao KH, from Department of Urban Planning at National Taipei University, those “hurdles” seems incomprehensible. “The nature of sustainability is not the environmental issues which recognized by the most of us, it’s about resource allocation, which is the fundamental economic issue. Economic development derives from natural resources, the economy could not have been developed without resource allocation. Someone’s gain is another’s loss; the current generation consumes more leaving less consumption for the next generation. If we want to discuss economic development, why not put sustainability as its priority?”

Ideally, cities should be able to maintain sustainability and economic development, realizing distributive justice, citizens have the equal right to a safe living environment and acquire decent jobs. A “decent job”, according to the UN, should be efficient and secures decent income, safe working environment, protecting family, nurturing individual potential and equal social rights, open to suggestions, organization participation and personal effective decisions, as well as gender equality in the workplace.

There are two conditions under the discussion of SDGs for cities that have to bring down environmental impact to its lowest while offering everyone equal right to the career and maintaining prosperity and productivity.

photo credit: Pedro Lastra @ Unsplash

Green Infrastructure: Green infrastructure is not only about leisure and aesthetics

Just as cities are the lifeline of economic development, so is “infrastructure” to that of cities: infrastructure is the root to maintain the life cycle of cities. Think carefully, do you really understand the way greenhouse gas emission are dealt with in the city you live in? Do you spend too much time and energy on complex transportation systems? Are clean air and drinking water available in the city you live in? How does your city recycle and manage industrial waste and billions of tons of garbage? Does the city have a stable electricity supply? Are these public green lands sufficient for everyone to enjoy equally? Can it endure natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes?

Everything mentioned above needs support from infrastructure, and the significance of sustainable city is to use innovations and smarter methods to minimize the cities’ influence to the environment and allocate equal resources to every citizen, maintaining productivity under a healthy and vibrant condition. In the past, the discussion focused on engineering and technology “grey infrastructure”, but “green infrastructure” has become the focus of discussion in recent years.

The green infrastructure in the cities usually means the “soft” structures such as the ecosystem. In the past, greeneries in parks were seen as luxuries to obtain when the living standard has reached a certain level. Such areas seemed extravagant in the cities where every inch of land was worth a great deal. Research shows that human beings have a natural desire to be surrounded by nature.  We have to wildlife including trees, flowers and rivers in order to maintain the balance of body and mind; the planning and construction of public green lands mean more than leisure, for it is an important factor to stimulate the ecological cycle and metabolism system of the cities inhabited by humans.

In other words, green infrastructure does not simply mean being artistic “greenery” or being close to the water. It has to be a type of green land designed to attract various types of spices with ecological functions. In contrast to gray cement infrastructure, public eco-construction and space planning must be designed for the consideration of its structure, overall consideration of ecology, society, culture and economic profit including eco-friendly pathways, wetlands, natural parks, protected zones and vegetation areas and their connection in cities, increasing the biological variation while transforming in compliance with the original infrastructure, including the management of recycled wastes and minimizing air and water pollution by using natural resources such as solar power, wind power, cogeneration with technology, building constructed nature resources and mange recycled wastes, and how to obtain green lands for everyone through public and governmental means.

According to the draft bill of SDGs by Taiwan, the average coverage of park and green lands per person by 2015 was 4.67 square meters. It is estimated that the coverage would rise to 5 square meters per person by 2020, and the overall space for green lands would increase to 395 hectares. Such kind of green infrastructure in terms of its quantity and quality to Prof. Liao, was not sufficient enough to operate its eco-system services. Trees were cut down or removed because of constructions and developments. Moreover, the percentage of sewage treatment and waste recycling were at 58 % by the end 2016. It is estimated to rise to 61% by 2020.

The most infrastructure of modern cities is centralized in design. In other words, even if the population is large (over millions for example), we rely on the same waste management system, sewage system, electricity supply system, and constructions such as landfills, radioactive waste storage sites, power stations, constructions that most people chose to distant from (Not-In-My-Back-Yard), and underprivileged groups were forced to live in that type surroundings. Prof. Liao points out that, it is time to start review: “What is the reason behind the design of those constructions?

photo credit: D. Jameson RAGE @ Unsplash

Can the infrastructures be accepted by everyone?

She further pointed out that the modern infrastructure design can focus on decentralized and localized developments, under the concept of sustainable equality and justice, designing infrastructure systems which communities are capable of managing waste, sewage and scraps, as for individuals, everyone should be cautious on how to reduce consumption and pollution.

Moreover, everyone has the right to enjoy it since it is seen as infrastructure. However, in the modern cities which wealth inequality is large, it is hard to reach the goal. Greeneries usually exist in the high-class areas, underprivileged groups usually being left out under the marketing strategy of real estates, the authority would choose the side to be an alliance with, investing only in the area which benefits them. The result violates the “inclusiveness” of infrastructure and living which SDGs emphasize.