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14/05/2020

Going beyond the triple bottom line to secure a sustainable future

Culture should be added to the social, environmental and economic goals that make up the three pillars of planning, argues Prof. Jason Pomeroy

I recently returned from the 10th Session of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, convened by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), with the theme ‘Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation’. [Editor’s note: Also the title of Jason’s new book, which was the event’s official accompanying text].

There was much discussion about the need for change in our understanding of the ‘triple bottom line’ [the framework of social, environmental and economic performance that supports sustainable policymaking and development].

The argument that pervaded the forum was that while this approach is still useful, it does not reflect all dimensions of our global societies as they are today.

For a start, culture needs to be part of this model, as an essential element that shapes who we are as people in societies. Culture refers to not only the arts but also to the customs, institutions, and achievements of a social group, a people, or a nation.

“Adopting a sustainable process will deliver a sustainable product”

Innovation refers to the action or process of change, alteration, or revolution that brings about change. It is easy to assume that innovation may be juxtaposed to the preservation of culture and time-tested rituals. Yet as human settlements grew and evolved through the diverse exchanges of people trading, celebrating, rallying and socially interacting, it should come as little surprise that cities and its places would become, and continue to be, centres of culture and innovation that are inextricably linked.

If a lesson is to be learned from any of the world’s successful cities it is that adopting a sustainable process delivers a sustainable product. That process is often one that embraces a culture of innovation that is inclusive and allows each member of society to make a difference.

That process should involve the collaboration of four key spheres of influence: namely government, the people, business and academia working together. In this scenario the approach is neither solely government-led or solely people-led; the four spheres have an equal stake in creating a framework to exchange ideas.

The people are enabled to detail what they need and want to see. Academic institutions can test and provide ‘proof of concepts’ that can demonstrate positive citywide improvements. And multinational corporations and SMEs can work on the solutions with academic institutions. The results of this undertaking are ratified by the government to bring the process full circle. We see such models implemented from Bandung to Barcelona, and wish to see more.

Professor Jason Pomeroy is an architect, academic, author and TV presenter

Image credit | iStock

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