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The political economy of development
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World indicators on the environmentWorld Energy Statistics - Time SeriesEconomic inequality
World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

6. City and Community: Toward Environmental Sustainability


A key element in the many efforts under way to create better communities and cities, from Cajamarca, Peru, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the United States, is citizen involvement in deciding which problems to tackle and how they should be tackled. This is the case in grassroots efforts led by communities and NGOs and in government initiatives such as Local Agenda 21, as well as those instituted with the help of international groups, whether they are NGOs such as the Habitat International Coalition or donor agencies such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. (See Box 6.6.)

In poor cities in the developing world, these exercises generally focus on identifying the worst environmental threats to health. A range of techniques is being used to identify priorities, and some of these are more participatory and inclusive than others. Some emphasize data collection in concert with public consultations; others focus more on consensus building to reach environmental goals.

There is no agreement on which approaches work best. As the Urban Management Programme (UMP) found, the priorities determined by public consultations may be very different from those identified by rapid scientific assessments. (The UMP, a joint program of the United Nations Development Programme, the Habitat International Coalition, and the World Bank, is involved in developing environmental action plans in a number of cities.) In Sao Paulo, Brazil, for example, limited green space was identified as a high priority in the consultation process but did not even make it onto the data-based problem ranking (97). (See Table 6.2.) The outcomes of both of these processes are largely dependent on who is involved; a poor family may have a quite different set of priorities than a rich one. Even in the data collection process, the biases of those collecting and interpreting the data may be a factor.

Furthermore, questions remain about whether and how these exercises can best be translated into action. Priority-setting studies provide valuable information but may have limited impact if they ignore public sentiment or the particular political, financial, and institutional context of a city. They may be less effective if those most affected (the poor) are not given the means to articulate their needs. Political support, timing, and an emphasis on cost- effective solutions are also important if these processes are to be translated into tangible improvements.

In the wealthier cities of the developed world, priority setting can take on a different guise. Rather than focus on life- threatening environmental problems, some communities have the luxury of thinking about the future. In numerous cities across North America, for instance, communities are using public forums to develop a vision of the future and then decide upon collaborative strategies for getting there.

Indeed, the experience of Chattanooga, Tennessee, shows how large- scale community participation can add extra impetus to a city restoration program. Only three decades ago, air pollution in Chattanooga was so bad that drivers often had to switch on headlights in the middle of the day. Tuberculosis cases were three times the national average.

The city's political, business, and environmental leaders, along with the community as a whole, all played a role in the turnaround. The city's political leaders cracked down on air pollution in response to the requirements of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. Meeting the new law's health standards meant requiring local industries to install air pollution control equipment. But the requirements also provided local economic stimulus, generating some $40 million locally in spending on air pollution control equipment and a new local manufacturer of air pollution "scrubbers."

The city's business and political leaders also saw improvements in the city's environment as a marketing opportunity that could attract new businesses and new investments. The city's electric buses are made by a new local firm that has also received orders from cities in several other states. The city wants to transform a decrepit old industrial area, the South Central Business District, into a new mixed-use community of neighborhoods and environmentally pristine businesses, which would allow employees to live near their workplaces.

Environmental improvements gained further community support in 1984 during the Vision 2000 project, which brought some 1,700 members of the community together over 20 weeks to talk about their vision of the city in the year 2000. The meetings resulted in 34 concrete goals, which in turn generated some 223 city projects. The projects included the construction of the Tennessee River Park, the Tennessee Aquarium, and a commitment to upgrade the city's substandard housing. By 1992, 85 percent of the goals had been met. Some $739 million was invested in the city, of which about two thirds came from private sources. By 1993, the community was ready to start all over again, launching ReVision 2000.

Although the process was somewhat ad hoc, it nevertheless was driven by an underlying consensus in the late 1960s and 1970s that the city was failing, both economically and environmentally. What drove the process ahead was a tacit agreement between business leaders and the community at large about the value of environmental improvements; in addition, there was strong community support resulting from the Vision 2000 process (98).

References and Notes

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