International Symposium Addresses Sustainability, Development Issues

January 01, 2005
By  Donald Miller

During the international symposium, Global Pressures on Local Autonomy: Challenges to Urban Planning for Sustainability and Development, held in early September in Louisville, Ky., many presentations dealing with local efforts to advance sustainable urban development around the world encouraged equally interesting discussions by participants from 22 countries. The event was sponsored by the International Urban Planning and Environment Association.

Academics from around the world came to Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 4-8 to attend an international symposium on urban planning. Shown are, from left: Beverly McLean of the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y.; William Smith-Bowers of the University of Westminster in London; Faith Weekly, Community Affairs specialist at the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; and Lynne Mitchell of Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England.

A major theme heard throughout the symposium was the necessity to make trade-offs-the dialectics of dealing in practical terms with sustainability. Sustainability is commonly defined as a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns that takes a long-term view. When these objectives are in conflict, acceptable trade-offs are difficult to identify and agree on, but necessary.

In addition, several sub-themes or findings frequently emerged from the symposium sessions:

  1. Developed societies have as much to learn from developing societies as the other way around when it comes to addressing sustainable urban development.
  2. A complementary relationship between replicable analysis and direct citizen participation is a necessity for understanding environmental issues. Also, research results need to be presented in popularly understandable and interesting terms to be useful and to have effect.
  3. Whether low-income households are located on cheaper sites near brownfields or vice versa, environmental problems disproportionately impact the less well-off.
  4. Most negative environmental impacts do not occur alone, meaning that several kinds of pollution need to be addressed together.
  5. Since the systems with which we are dealing are complex, developing an implementation strategy for resolving development issues increases the likelihood of a practical and effective solution.
  6. Broad community involvement in initiatives for sustainable development helps to ensure that the right issues are addressed and to build the constituency necessary for implementation.

Reflecting on the symposium as a whole, the most interesting and useful presentations were based on one or more actual cases, and so were inductive in their approach. Many participants noted that the specific treatments of problems and responses were more useful to them than were abstract and general presentations. Additionally, the papers were especially interesting to participants if the presenter had first-hand experience with the case or process, as opposed to being a third-party observer.

This symposium provided an exceptional venue to bring together governmental officials, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and researchers to exchange experiences and information on how to use urban planning for sustainability and development. The next symposium in this series is scheduled for Bangkok in early January 2007.

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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