What factors influence the sustainability of cities

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The issue of sustainable development is a priority in EU policy and is becoming increasingly important in national policy. A ranking on sustainable urban development showed how much Polish cities still have to do in this field.

On June 3 this year, the Sustainable Development Ranking of 66 Polish cities with county (powiat) rights (hereinafter: ranking) was announced at the Copernicus Science Center. It was prepared by Polityka Insight on commission of the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation and Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Poland. The ranking takes into account four dimensions of sustainable development, namely economy, society, environment and politics. They determine the quality of life in cities.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development answers the question: “How can we improve the quality of life in cities, while keeping in mind the limited amount of natural resources and future generations? How to use the environment wisely to create conditions for social and economic development?”. The authors of the ranking remind that cities, which gather more than 70% of the European population, consume 80% of energy and are responsible for 80% of CO2 emissions. Therefore, they are a good addressee of these questions.

Sustainable development– Sustainable development is the answer to another indicator, economic growth. It boils down to the fact that we increase the level of prosperity for current generations, but we do not forget about future ones – reminds Piotr Arak, senior social analyst at Polityka Insight and co-author of the ranking.

Therefore, we should remember that the effects of decisions made today will be visible in 10, 20 or 50 years. And their consequences will be borne by future generations. Because sustainable development is about the future.

The issue of sustainable development does not boil down only to appropriate policies conducted by the authorities at every level. – Sustainable development of cities is also the responsibility of the citizens, not only the city authorities – claims Piotr Arak.

One of the most important problems connected with sustainable development is energy management. This is a fundamental issue in terms of the quality of life of current and future residents.

– Energy is the bloodstream of the economy. We are used to the fact that it consists of oil, electricity, gas. That these fuels are available. However, this bloodstream is accompanied by other sectors. In the Ministry of Energy we are conducting research on how to open energy to other sectors, e.g. waste or ICT – informs Michał Kurtyka, the Deputy Minister of Energy. – Prospective for Poland is the question of combining energy with transport, i.e. betting on electric transport.

Four dimensions of sustainable development:

  • environment
  • economy
  • society
  • politics

As the Deputy Minister pointed out, electric transport is the future of the whole world, and e.g. in China there are already over half a million of such cars.

About 60% of pollution in the centers of large cities comes from transport. The solution to this problem is openness in thinking about sustainable development in the context of equal sectors and their synergies – believes Michał Kurtyka. – If we think about sustainable development of cities, we must also think about cogeneration. So let’s look for what can be waste in one sector, and a source of energy in another. This is what municipal cogeneration is.

Urban policy

Sustainable development is not only about energy. It is a series of actions, both on local and central level. The latter are defined by the National Urban Policy (NPM), which was adopted on 20 October 2015.

– The National Urban Policy is not just a government document. It is intended to serve us all. The threads contained in the NPM are also found in the so-called Morawiecki Plan. We also want them to appear in the Sustainable Development Strategy – informs the Deputy Minister of Development.

Urban policy

The National Urban Policy defines planned government activities concerning cities and takes into account objectives and directions specified in the mid-term national development strategy and the national strategy for regional development.

It also indicates how particular policies implemented by various government departments and institutions should be adjusted and directed to various needs of Polish cities, from the largest to the smallest ones. At the same time, public policies should make it possible to make the best use of unique potentials and competitive advantages of particular cities in order to ensure sustainable development and thus – what is most important in urban policy – to improve the quality of life of city dwellers.

One of the important topics related to urban policies, which have a great impact on sustainability issues, among others, is urban governance. It cannot be only vertical and decisions cannot be made only at the level of authority. Sustainable development requires participatory governance.

The principle of multi-level governance involves different actors from the central, regional and local levels. And not only institutional actors, but also citizens or urban movements – explains it. Slowly, this awareness is also reaching the rulers at various levels. – We are on the eve of proposing some new solutions in this area in the strategy for sustainable development.