Paving the way for a sustainable future

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Festival partner RMIT is staging a special event in this years Festival that is putting the focus on how urban planners can create sustainable cities. Associate Professor Marco Amati, program manager of RMIT’s Master of International, Urban and Environment Management talks about sustainable future.

Sustainable Futures: Exploring the ways environmental management professionals develop and implement environmental strategy and action plans to secure the environment for the future.

During the 20th century, urban environmental progress around the world mostly advanced in distinguishable phases.

Initial large-scale, heavy industrialisation required legislation to curb, for example, smoke and air pollution.

Populations increasingly moved from rural areas to cities, where work was abundant in factories and commercial enterprises. This overwhelmed out-dated infrastructure like rubbish disposal and sewerage, forcing costly upgrades.

Once these initial environmental management challenges were overcome, urban residents were free to turn their attention to less immediate and larger scale problems, including activism on climate change mitigation, urban food growing or advanced methods of recycling.

The biggest change in urban environmental management from the 20th century to today is the scale and range of environmental problems.

In the 21st century, megacities such as Jakarta will face significant problems with air pollution, but equally there will be opportunities for residents who are concerned about the environment to drive hybrid or electric cars.

Chinese megacities such as Tianjin face serious problems with smoke, but may find the vision and investment to build an ‘eco-city’ as a poster child for other cities.

We are beginning to see an increasing level of exchange between cities, including a multiplication of the systems used for effective environmental management.

While the West was once seen as the generator of these solutions, many are now coming from cities in the former developing world – for example, the reappraisal of formerly informal settlement in India made famous by Kevin McLeod or the transport solutions developed in the Brazilian city of Curitiba.

It is also very important that companies and individuals engage in more sustainable practices.

Changing individual behaviours is important if they contribute to greater action and encourage people to make better decisions.

But such behaviour change is more likely to occur if there is direct economic benefit for the individual.

In terms of the industry, we are seeing the emergence of large, international consultancy firms that draw their staff from an international pool and provide a range of planning and environmental services that would once have been tied to a locality.

The emergence of these firms and the interest that they are taking in this area is a good indicator of the profitability of finding solutions for the environmental management of cities.

It is also an indication of the benefit of a set of core solutions to address environmental challenges faced by cities.

RMIT are aiming to educate students to be well versed in these solutions.

This article is based on an interview with Associate Professor Marco Amati, program manager of RMIT’s Master of International, Urban and Environmental Management

Find out more about RMIT’s Environment and Planning programs.

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