As the dominant site and sign of human settlement, the city exemplifies and displays the fundamental concerns of the human condition in the twenty-first century. Just as urban living concentrates us in close proximity, the city clusters clichés and sermons, critiques and self-serving assurances. The world’s most livable cities are well-planned and prosperous. Slums are disgusting. Congestion causes road rage. Electric vehicles are the answer. Planning is good.
From problems associated with climate change or sustainable water supply to those concerning increasing economic inequality or the break-up of communities, processes such as escalating resource use and cultural anomie that we once responded to as singular concerns are now bearing back upon us in a swirl of compounding pressures.
Cities are at the center of this man-made maelstrom. For all their vibrancy and liveliness, cities face a growing challenge to provide secure and sustainable places to live. Even the world’s most “livable cities”—Melbourne and Munich, Vancouver and Vienna—are utterly unsustainable in global ecological terms. Cities are responsible, for example, for around 80 percent of global energy consumption.
Paul James is Institute Director of the Global Cities Research Institute, RMIT University.