Cities

Back to the woods?

September 23rd 2009 was the day we used up all the resources that nature will generate for that year. Around the same time, the media proclaimed the beginning of the crisis in the global economy. Are the two headlines connected? There are many complex parallels but what is certain is that with 50% of the world’s population living in cities, we could say that the future is urban.

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On the one hand, our cities have the highest concentration of consumption, buildings, traffic, crime, pollution and waste production per square metre, but on the other hand, they are characterized by a level of density and intensity that engenders shared knowledge, culture and creativity.

“I imagine my city with flying vehicles, portable parks, and water will be supplied by robots. I will be an astronaut and I’ll fly to the moon and work in tourism in outer space”, Juan Manuel, 8 years old, Bogotá. Firstly, who better than children to design the drastic changes that have to be made in the city? If the city is a good place to be through the eyes of a child (they can play in the street, meet friends, move around freely, climb trees and, why not, daydream and see dragons in the streets…), it will be a good place for us all. Who wouldn’t want safe streets, efficient and accessible public transport, green areas and open spaces? Giving children a voice and a vote in city planning is a good step forward. In this issue of the magazine we focus on other ways that young people can transform their cities; take eco-safaris, green guerrilla teams and urban biodiversity mappers, as just some examples.

If we also look at the poorest cities in the world, where the urbanization process is happening at a faster pace and in many cases is out of control, can we sit back and relax, believing that we have the educational resources needed to deal with these urban realities? Do we know enough about sustainable urban development, the right to housing, risk management, community self-sufficiency, urban governance and connections between the rural economy and the city? Why not prioritise these matters in the education of the entrepreneurs, engineers and politicians of the future?

Looking to the future, and on a more positive note, what do Frieberg (Germany), Dongtan (China) and Portland (Oregon, USA) have in common? They all appear in different lists of the world’s “top eco-cities”, but there are so many ways of measuring sustainability and so much “talk”, that we now need to be a little more wary of the claims to be the most sustainable city, and know how to wean out the genuine “eco” from the future “city”.

At the time of publishing this issue, over 12,000 world leaders and experts were meeting in China at the fourth session of the World Urban Forum to discuss urbanization and its impact. Will they talk about the role of education? Let’s hope so! Meanwhile, we present an array of ideas and resources for teachers and educators in the frontline of our urban future.