Berkeley Forum hosts conversation on sustainable cities

Photo of downtown Berkeley
David McAllister/Staff
Speakers discussed the reimagination of sustainable cities, Singaporean urban planning and New York City’s green spaces at a Berkeley Forum event Wednesday.

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Three speakers discussed the reimagination of sustainable cities, Singaporean urban planning and New York City’s green spaces at a Berkeley Forum event Wednesday, also touching on redlining and public health inequities in the United States.

Clara Irazábal, director of the University of Maryland Urban Studies and Planning Program, began the discussion with a description of “the 3 E’s” — economy, equity and environment — that she said must remain in balance to drive sustainable development.

“We need to challenge the current developmental paradigm and how it operates in our cities,” Irazábal said at the event. “The reality is we have ‘economy’ driving all of our efforts and driving progress and development all together to the point that it’s squeezing out ‘equity’ and ‘environment.’ ”

Janil Puthucheary, a member of the Parliament of Singapore, then discussed the city’s sustainable urban development plans and the history that has led to their success. Singapore, a city of 5.7 million people living in a space less than one-fifth the size of California, has more trees than it has people.

According to Puthucheary, Singapore has created “microcosms of the country at large” in each township. This has resulted, he added, in multicultural and diverse communities in all parts of the city.

“Having said that, it doesn’t solve every problem,” Puthucheary said at the event. “Even in places where you’ve had opportunity for upstream planning, we need downstream data collection processes.”

Puthucheary added that climate change is at the forefront of the parliament’s discussions since Singapore is dependent on other nations for food and water and the threat of rising ocean levels is concerning for an island.

As climate change continues to impact people on a global scale, Mitchell Silver, New York City’s commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said rising heat levels and poor air quality are disproportionately affecting redlined communities in the United States.

Using a data-driven approach, Silver discovered that the $6 billion invested in New York City parks over the last 20 years was not equally distributed, with some communities receiving no money and others being overserved.

Silver underscored the importance of parks, seeing them as a way of “healing our planet.” Silver stated that parks are not only important for a city’s fiscal health, but for residents’ mental health too. He said they provide oxygen, collect stormwater and serve as “sanctuaries of sanity” for residents, which is especially important during the pandemic.

Both Irazábal and Silver praised Singapore as a model for innovative and forward-thinking urban development. However, Puthucheary noted that Singapore’s position as a leader in sustainable city development did not happen overnight.

“We are the beneficiary of several decades of a particular type of urban planning that has allowed us to make climate change mitigation a national effort for everyone,” Puthucheary said at the event.

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.