This special issue of ETHOS, brought to you in partnership with the Ministry of National Development’s Centre for Liveable Cities, explores the theme of urban sustainability. The global pandemic, followed closely by unsettling geopolitical conflict, has led to a cascade of disruptions to the supply chains that for decades have helped lift the wellbeing of billions around the world. Beyond these urgent, immediate concerns, the dire prospect of climate change and its impacts looms large, particularly in an era of deepening energy and resource constraints, food insecurity, and societal unrest. In the 21st century, governments around the world are being challenged like never before to pursue economic development and societal progress in ways that are resilient and sustainable in the long term. In this light, greening a society is about having a strategy that offers it the best chance to foster and preserve—to sustain—its survival and success in increasingly uncertain circumstances.
The solutions societies will need to address these issues will involve thoughtful regulation, significant investment and technical knowhow. But for sustainability to stick, there must be concerted action from across every sector: public, private, and the people. This can be a source of new opportunities for all. Sustainability will not only be the purview of a niche of green specialists; existing jobs will need to be redesigned to be aligned with sustainability goals, even as new ones are created when technologies, markets and needs evolve. We may also have to reframe the way we evaluate policies and projects, to better factor in environmental and social costs and benefits that are not well accounted for by conventional measures. There are also encouraging signs that the public, particularly a younger generation, is taking the issue of sustainability to heart, and is prepared to make choices towards the greater good, although they may still need support to translate their aspirations into consistent action.
While the challenges we face are daunting, we are not alone in confronting them. Humanity has become an urban species. Around the world, cities—as confluences of populations, markets, resources and ideas—are leading the way in developing and deploying practical new approaches to nurturing more sustainable, liveable and healthy societies. City and government leaders are part of a growing community of practitioners who can learn from one another; even as they are spurred by global competition to become ever more attractive places to live, work and play. The thriving city of tomorrow will be one with a culture of self-reflection about its strengths and shortcomings, a mindset of continual improvement, clarity about the deep needs of its denizens, and a commitment to serve them all well, with the full range of tools and measures at hand. In drawing inspiration from wherever we can to make our cities more sustainable and liveable places to be, we are offering ourselves and our children the prospect of a future that is not only viable but dynamic, enticing and deserving of our best collective efforts.
I wish you a stimulating read.
Dr Alvin Pang