Ecological solutions for cities

THE BOOK focuses on a new environmental agenda for cities, followed by details on environmental problems in the home, workplace and neighbourhood.

The treatment of the subject makes interesting reading of a much debated topic. For a change, concrete suggestions emerge for tackling environmental problems, especially health problems. Despite the presence of dismal figures about environmental problems in Third World cities, the book notes: "Cities can provide healthy and stimulating environments for their inhabitants without imposing unsustainable demands on natural resources and ecosystems."

The authors recognise the role of urban governance in tackling environmental problems and say, "Rapid urban expansion without effective urban governance meant that in virtually every urban centre... a substantial proportion of the population is at risk from natural and human-induced environmental hazards." They rightly assert that the scale and severity of environmental problems in Third World cities reflect the failure of governments. But one could say the same thing about cities in the developed countries also.

"Sustainable development" is the international buzz-word today. In a refreshingly original chapter on "sustainable development and cities", the authors argue that in view of the ambiguities inherent in discussions of economic, social and cultural sustainability, the "sustainable" component of "sustainable development" can be used only in terms of ecological sustainability.
Environmental capital There are discussions on three types of environmental capital -- the "natural sink" capacity of local and global systems to absorb or break down human wastes, the finite stock of non-renewable resources, and renewable resources.

From the point of view of both development and sustainability, there are four key policy issues: Responding to citizens' demands for a safe and healthy living and working environment, penalising polluters and rewarding innovative ways to reduce pollution, managing urban growth to promote minimal use of environmental capital, and identifying and supporting the development of new economic activities that enhance both the urban centre's economic base and its environment.

The authors argue that "neither regulation nor market incentives can offer an alternative to efficient and effective local government".

The value of this book would have been enhanced if the authors had summarised the North-South controversy at the Rio conference. Nevertheless, it still contains much that is useful for planners and policy-makers.

Ashish Bose is a noted expert on population and a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow.