Art of City Building 2020 – Session 1: Justice, Sustainability & Climate Resilient Cities

As part of the Art of City Building 2020 conference, we invited Mayor Mike Savage, Tara Wickwire, Alex Bozicovic, Katherine Peinhardt, Jeff Goodell, Julian Agyeman, and Tamika Butler to discuss Justice, Sustainability, and Climate Resilient Cities.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Adaptation shouldn’t come at the expense of accessibility

Katherine Peinhardt argues that when it comes to adapting to a changing climate, adaptation cannot come at the expense of accessibility. Giving the example of rain gutters or steps that can make public space inaccessible for some members of the community, she says, “if it doesn’t work well for everyone, it doesn’t work. A resilient public space is first and foremost a public space.”

2. A new world is upon us—which direction will we choose?

Jeff Goodell presents the sobering reality that even if we outlaw fossil fuels and go to zero carbon emissions tomorrow, sea levels would still continue to rise for decades to come. However, he argues, we are in a moment of transformation, where a new world is possible. “In the coming years, we’re going to reinvent where and how we live. We can build a fairer, more just world. Or not. It’s up to us.” He proposes a series of big questions that we must tackle ahead: Will we get serious about cutting carbon? When does the real estate market collide with climate science? Where will the money for adaptation come from? How quickly will we stop building walls and learn to live with water? Who decides who, and what, will be saved?

3. Sustainability is more than green

Julian Agyeman speaks about the equity deficit in conversations about sustainability. Going forward, we need planning at both the human and humane scales—addressing urban equality, equity, and human dignity at the same time as climate objectives. Says Agyeman, “Sustainability cannot only be a green or environmental concept. True sustainability is achieved when social need, welfare, and economic opportunity are integrated into living within the environment’s limits.”

4. Your race impacts your quality of life

Using the example of Los Angeles, where she lives, Tamika Butler points out that the race you are born into is more determinant of your outcomes than any other factor. This plays out geographically as well. South Los Angeles is made up of predominantly Black and Latinx communities, while West Los Angeles is predominantly white. Giving the examples of migrant workers and frontline workers, she says, “If the climate is going to drastically change everything we do, how just and how sustainable will that change be if we determine some are worth saving, and some are worth helping others to be saved?”

5. Co-produced futures are the only way forward

In the ensuing moderated conversation, the presenters agreed that we need to move from models of allyship to models of accomplices. We need urban planning and urban design professions with practitioners that look like and come from the communities they are designing for; people who are both culturally competent, and culturally humble. Changing the future starts with changing who’s doing the work.