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Sustainable Communities

Urbanization and Globalization: Place Still Matters

Today, more than half the world’s 7.3 billion people live in urban areas, with urbanization projected to reach 60% by 2030. The rise of global markets and modernization of traditional economies have accelerated urban migration, especially in developing countries. As metropolitan areas become more powerful centers of economic, political, and social life, they emerge as important loci for action on sustainable development. In the absence of effective global institutions for sustainability, the local level stands as a critical arena for translating visions of a sustainable future into pragmatic programs for change.

The Global and the Local Nexus

The 1992 Earth Summit spawned local sustainability initiatives throughout the world, a new chapter in “thinking globally, acting locally.” These many, diverse efforts accomplished a good deal: healthy debates about community priorities, heightened awareness, and some tangible real-world adjustments. Yet, limited in scope and vision, they seldom adopted the integrated perspective needed to encompass the full array of critical environmental, social, and economic factors. Rather than exploring systemic alternatives to business-as-usual scenarios, they have tended to focus on packages of incremental adjustments to current trends. Most basically, they have rarely placed local sustainability in the context of the wider challenge of global sustainability, thus ignoring the responsibility of localities to the broader agenda.

Sustainable Communities at Tellus

For over two decades, Tellus has brought a systemic and global framework to local and regional sustainability challenges. Our projects on alternative futures rely on scenario analysis to examine current and alternative trajectories to identify actions for reaching environmental and social goals (e.g., see Contours of the Future: Alternative Scenarios for the Boston Region). International work on sustainable urbanization recognizes the pivotal role of cities in global development (see www.communitascoalition.org). Regional resilience projects address both physical and socio-economic vulnerability (e.g., see Regional Climate Adaptation Strategy) and resource planning (e.g., see From Waste to Jobs).