#35 Sustainable Cities and Consumption – the eye of the hurricane

Image of UN goal 11
Image by United Nations

With a global goal set upon making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable it is so easy to stay narrowly focused on the topic of productivity. The phrase ‘sustainable cities’ reminds me of the dialogue of the prevailing millennium where cities were considered to be dependent solely upon the resources within them.

Since this time many of the manufacturing responsibilities around the world have shifted, most definitely in physical locations. At the same time considerations of being sustainable are either at extreme pressure points and often the chosen resolutions are ‘not fit for purpose’. Unfortunately this is also a personal reminder that I may have possibly lived long enough to have seen the same ‘cars being moved around the same car park’ – figuratively writing!

This Consequences Blog is looking beyond what could be a narrow focused view of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Consumption. My expansion of viewpoint takes place within the debate of how top-down approaches or command and control demands do not work and yet our quest for sustainable cities is often being developed under this frame.

An example of this is the phrase ‘corporatocracy’ (a term used to refer to an economic and political system controlled by corporations or corporate interests).

It is situations of corporatocracy that in some way the phrase ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ gains some gravitas. This is not the first time I have heard this phrase used and although a clever play on words it is often what prevents cities from being sustainable. A recent Australian example of this and how top-down approaches get in the way of sustainable futures is best demonstrated with the current example of changes for the Charity regulator of the Australian Charities Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC).

The inaugural commissioner of the ACNC (Susan Pascoe AM) will step aside when her term finishes in September amid renewed concerns over the future of the charity regulator

The major concern of this step aside’ is that the decision does not represent the wishes of the end–user. It is also quite unusual that any organization at the receiver end of a regulation format would prefer them to be around. Most importantly the decisions to not re-appoint the commissioner is not being supported by those who represent the end-user and play a role in making the future sustainable.

The not-for-profit sector makes a major economic contribution, employing more than one million Australians and turning over in excess $134 billion each year.

Although situations like this frustrate me my curiously to better understand how such tensions can be better understood has driven much of my research. How can we have sustainable cities and consumption that best represents local capabilities that are set within global footprints? Such decisions are surely best made from what works at the local level. Although not part of my research I can cite another Australian example of ‘what not to do’.

The building of a new highway in Perth – termed as Roe 8 where a group of vey active campaigners have formed to argue how it is not wanted. The highway demonstrates how the process of planning and managing infrastructure is not working – for the local people (end user).

The environmental assessment process was over-ridden and the conditions associated with construction are constantly being disregarded. Important Aboriginal sites and health impacts were not taken into consideration.

The main gist of this argument is that sustainable cities with sustainable consumption only happen when true economic value is created via partnerships.

Put money, powers and abilities together into one project pot that delivers accessibility, amenity and agglomeration

I do see examples of how accessibility, amenity and agglomeration can exist across sectors and although not dependent upon technology it is often captured in the phrase ‘smart cities’ .

‘Smart city ‘reality’ is about co-creation at the fastest rate in history’

With my research concluding that we are in an enabling paradigm set within the fourth industrial revolution, I refer to this era as the purpose economy. An enabling paradigm describes how relationship tensions – although a given – can and must be approached differently in this dramatically fast pace era of the purpose economy. Having a smart city approach to sustainable cities and consumption means promoting the city’s or localities unique benefits.

‘Socially inclusive, affordable cities with liveable climates attract talented staff’

This for me is where the story line becomes more positive and optimistic. Like never before by connecting at the local level and focusing innovation within emerging futures – in my terms STRADDLE™ – the new paradigm is upon us. Australia is stepping into this space and for example has it own ‘Smart City Plan’ drafts underway.

I find this dialogue of innovation and future opportunities ‘bubbling’ everywhere but it can only be truly activated through being willing to not do things as we have always done – the true definition of emergence.

I most recently attended a gathering led by PwC in partnership with Impact Assembly and Western Sydney University. Representation in attendance wasac ross all sectors, which forms much of the accessibility, amenity and agglomeration pathway requirements for future sustainability. With a theme of harnessing the power of many to create social impact I was drawn to the words of Helen Fezzino (Managing Partner People, Partnership & Culture at PwC ). It was possibly more her sentiments than her exact words as in her opening speech she spoke of the need for us all to be a part of making the platform to enable change – what a great legacy she is leaving.

PwC being one of the leading voices in this space is recognizing that if we are to navigate this new paradigm (I refer to it as the enabling paradigm) then it is like the ‘eye of the hurricane’ and it is time to let go of organization ownership (I feel the need to repeat this!). Let go of organization ownership

PwC are fortunately not on their own and JBWere for one are also clearly driving the same agenda – there must be others?

In considering the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal #11 Sustainable cities and consumption by taking an approach of the prevailing paradigm and a top-down centralized approach to ownership systemic changes simply will not be cracked.

Remember “if you are currently doing business as you always have – it’s your amber light”.


United Nations Sustainability Development Goals – Global Goals – Target 11


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