Rio+20: Cities and Sustainability


Rio+20, or The Earth Summit as it is widely known, is fast approaching and will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20 – 22, 2012. Rio is a city transformed from where it was and what it looked like in 1992 when the world first met there at the “First Earth Summit” to try to figure out a plan to work together to create a more sustainable future for us all. Rio is a more well known example of some of the amazing cities that you will be introduced to in Ashley Halligan’s guest post on Cities and Sustainability.

Ashley’s post is the first in a series on the hopes, dreams and ideals behind this important Summit. Join us as we find reason to hope and feel positive about the future, as we learn more about the people, cities and companies that aren’t waiting on National governments to “figure it out” (’cause we aren’t sure they ever will) but that are forging ahead and creating a sustainable and promising world for tomorrow, today. Grab the kids in your life and “read on” as Ashley shares with us some of the exciting and innovative success stories found in cities around the globe.

“Lesser Known” Global Urban Sustainability Projects: by Ashley Halligan

Sustainability as a trend is certainly not new, but its popularity and and level of innovativeness is certainly growing. Some cities have been world leaders in environmental initiatives for quite some time. Perhaps serving as inspiration for other cities to create their own sustainability projects, these cities have set the bar respectably high.

Some of the latest innovations, from development, social, and even full-blown makeovers, have shown us that any city can either begin or become sustainable–even if it seems quite a challenge. Today, we’ll take a look at four cities serving as up-and-coming global leaders in sustainability initiatives–all with vastly different approaches.

Medellin, Colombia is first on our list–and is an example of a “makeover city” with its emphasis on transit development. Once deemed the most violent city in the world and a mecca for drug trafficking, Medellin has surprised us all by winning the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award alongside San Francisco, awarded by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. With a new slew of public transit options making transportation available to all Medellin residents, and the implementation of an innovative escalator system connecting Medellin’s formerly poorest neighborhood to its city center, its initiatives have also resulted in a 90 percent reduction in crime rate since the projects began–credited by Mayor Alonso Salazar.

Naples, Italy is another example of a “makeover city,” tackling challenges of both excess waste and violence–though, Naples is a

Credit: Ashley Halligan

prime example of a social initiative. Naples’ residents have countered the ongoing trash crisis (much accredited to the Camorra–a local Mafia-like organization) by hosting things like flash-mob park clean-ups, and guerrilla gardening groups in an effort to clean the city’s waste-lined streets, Mount Vesuvius National Park, beautify parks and gardens, and restore the city to its former grandeur.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a city whose current mayor, Mike Nutter, decided to overcome the city’s recent declaration by the U.S. Department of Energy calling Philadelphia a “Solar America City,” stating the city displayed “both a compelling need and an important opportunity to accelerate solar application.” Nutter decided he’d make Philly the “greenest” city in the country with a six-year, 14-initiative plan addressing all points the city was previously lacking in.

Lastly, Songdo, South Korea represents that development and made-from-scratch urban metropolis can, in fact, be quite sustainable. Literally built on top of swampland just 40 miles outside of Seoul, Songdo has more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) facilities than any other city in the world. A state-of-the-art city designed with sustainability as the primary focus, the city also has 40-percent green space with a 100-acre Central Park–but also boasts South Korea’s tallest building–in South Korea’s first LEED Neighborhood. Songdo is a great example of a sustainability blending with inventiveness.

Whichever direction you’re coming from, these cities give a broad example as to the possibilities when an eco-consciousness is paired with innovative mindfulness.

Ashley Halligan is a market analyst at Austin-based Software Advice, a consumer resource. A freelance journalist and travel writer, she’s also editor-in-chief of Austin Lifestyle Magazine. Connected with her via LinkedIn or follow her travels on Facebook.

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One Response to Rio+20: Cities and Sustainability

  1. Thanks for letting us know about these 4 forward-thinking cities. I really think the changes we need to see regarding climate change will happen at the local level — even in the U.S., over 1000 mayors have signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. I guess that’s why we’re always encouraged to “think globally, act locally!”

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