Transforming cities for a more sustainable future

Transforming cities for a more sustainable future

September 16, 2016

Transforming cities for a more sustainable future

A focus on transportation and energy sources is no longer enough: cities need better food policies to become more environmentally sustainable.

More than half of the world’s current population lives in cities. It then should come as no surprise that out of its 17 goals for sustainable development, the United Nations has included one relating to urban centres. Eleventh on the list, the resolution is intended to make cities safer and more sustainable in various respects, including food. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s clear by now that using the wealth of local products as a barometer for the quality of life in a city isn’t enough. As the BCFN Foundation has mentioned on more than one occasion, other indicators are needed – ones that consider the various, finer details which make a city truly sustainable and health-friendly for both residents and the environment.

A great starting point
“Starting with cities to combat climate change and seek out a more sustainable future for all is a winning strategy”, said Marta Antonelli, a researcher at the BCFN Foundation. Ms Antonelli spends much of her time at the Sustainable Diet Observatory, whose mission is to explore the initiatives presented by various stakeholders as ways to promote real change in the way we eat. Within the Observatory is a specific field of research dedicated to cities, called “Feeding the City”. But, why begin with cities? According to Ms Antonelli, there are plenty of reasons, and perhaps the most important one is the fact that today we are seeing extremely high levels of urbanisation. As such, a shift in our attention to cities means thinking of half of the world’s population and its impact on the planet. “We mustn’t forget that a number of studies have shown that interventions targeted directly at cities are more effective than those on a broader, national level. They’re more focused and they have more attainable goals which are closer to the population”, she explained.

Increasing awareness, internationally
For years, when addressing cities’ environmental impact, the emphasis was usually placed on pollution from transportation and energy sources. As of late, however, we’ve become more aware of the important role food plays in the sustainable development of urban communities. As Ms Antonelli noted, “Today we talk about three main elements fundamental to making cities more sustainable, to the benefit of the planet: transportation, energy and food.” This is particularly true in terms of climate change and reducing CO2 emissions, an important goal for the C40, a network which unites large cities and metropolises around the world to fight global warming through city-based initiatives and valuable exchanges of knowledge. The creation of such a network involving entities that vary greatly in terms of culture, spending power and population allows each to learn from the experience of the others and to propose new solutions. The intended result? The launch of new “urban nutrition strategies” to help cities change their approach to food.

New city, new project
There are numerous initiatives put into place by cities that wish to change and improve, to become better homes for their residents and for the good of the planet as a whole. Following the examples set by Toronto and Vancouver in Canada, working groups such as food policy councils and food boards have been set up in many different cities to oversee food-related programmes. Yet others have taken action to strengthen the local economy or reduce environmental impact, as seen with the initiatives which focus on waste reduction and the redistribution of excess food. Last but certainly not least, there is no lack of initiatives emphasising health through campaigns which increase citizen awareness about the benefits of a healthy diet and the downsides of an injudicious lifestyle. “Each city adapts the sustainability projects to suit their own needs and priorities,” Ms Antonelli concluded, “but ultimately their experiences and achievements are shared within a global network - which can truly make a difference.”

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