Electric Review

Cohen’s The Sustainable City


THE SUSTAINABLE CITY. Steven Cohen. Columbia University Press.

Cover courtesy of Columbia University Press.

Humanity finds presently itself between two giant millstones: population growth, and the threat of environmental collapse, most notably through climate change. While we seemingly lack the political will to address either of those issues, it’s clear that the focal point where we likely will see the most damage is in our cities, some of which have populations near 50 million, and growing rapidly. Collectively, these issues comprise our sustainable “flash points.”

In The Sustainable City, Steven Cohen, eminently qualified to discuss such matters, clearly defines  the direction in which we need to move: “In addition to preventing damage to vital ecosystems, the sustainable city is also a place that attracts people, culture, and commerce.” As Cohen notes, it’s not enough for a place to merely be clean and efficient; people also need to be able to live there, want to live there, and enjoy living there. And that complicates matters, of course.

Most of the issues raised in this book will be immediately familiar to anyone involved in city management: the need for better waste management and disposal; the need for adequate infrastructure and mass transportation; the need for clean industry that contributes, rather than takes, from the city’s tax base; the need for dependable public safety, including adequate hospitals, emergency agencies and traffic controls; and the need for a vital and available culture that can reach out to the residents and compel participation. In sum, we need communities that serve the people, rather than the other way around. Iff this happens, people will natural contribute to their community if they see a route to a safer, cleaner, wealthier and healthier life.

In The Sustainable City, Cohen ranges widely, searching for projects that have been successful in the past, explaining why they’ve worked, or sometimes, why they’ve failed. To this end, he goes far afield, at one point using a Japanese town called Higashimatsushima as an example of sustainable micro-grid management. Devastated by the tsunami of 2011, Higashimatsushima quickly recovered to become a leader in the Japanese initiative of “Future Cities.”

Some will find The Sustainable City a bit dry in places, but this is mostly due to the genre and subject matter, and not the writing. Nonetheless, for anyone looking for a cleaner and most sustainable urban lifestyle, it is required reading. One hopes this book, along with Cohen’s other works of the same vein, will line the bookshelves of city offices everywhere.

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Bryan Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Canada and raised in London. He has lived in the Mount Shasta area since 1990, which he regards as the finest place on earth. Jamieson has spent the past 25 years as a graphic layout technician, web designer and writer, with over a thousand essays, a dozen short stories, and two novels – Ice Fall and Snow Fall – to his credit. In addition to his wife of 30-plus years, he normally lives with a dog and several cats, none of whom are impressed by him. Reach him through The Electric Review.