Chapter 9: Fighting Poverty and Injustice in Cities

State of the World 2007 - Our Urban Future
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-Janice E. Perlman with Molly O’Meara Sheehan

Poor urban neighborhoods face the worst of two worlds: the environmental health hazards of underdevelopment, such as lack of clean drinking water, and of industrialization, such as toxic wastes. Yet their residents tread lightly on the planet, using few resources and generating low levels of waste in comparison with their wealthier neighbors. The gap between rich and poor in cities from Nairobi to New York means that those with the fewest resources suffer most from pollution generated by the wealthiest.

What can be done to make our urban future a desirable and sustainable one? What kinds of cities foster conviviality and creativity? How can poverty and environmental degradation be alleviated and a voice for the disenfranchised be ensured?

There is no magic bullet for creating sustainable, equitable, and peaceful cities. But there are some necessary if not sufficient conditions for such transformations: transparent governance, decent work or a basic income, innovative infrastructure to conserve the environment, intelligent land use with integrated community development, and social cohesion along with cultural diversity. Bridging divides will require a new mindset. Unless— and until— we are ready to expand our conception of “we” from “me and my family” to my community, city, country, and planet, the gap will continue to grow.

Janice E. Perlman, a Guggenheim Award recipient, is the founder and President of the Mega-Cities Project, an international nonprofit, and a former professor of city and regional planning who consults widely on urban poverty and environmental justice issues. Molly O’Meara Sheehan is a Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and Project Director for State of the World 2007.