The key to achieving a sustainable future for Israel and the world lies in the cultivation of urban environments, and in an adjustment of people’s attitudes toward green behaviors, an Israeli research team says.
“We maintain that the city is the solution, the city isn’t the problem,” Valerie Brachya, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies’ Environmental Policy Center and an external lecturer at the Hebrew University’s department of geography, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview this week.
Brachya is the consultant to a developing Urban Sustainability project, currently completing its first out of three years within the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. The project – led by JISS Sustainability Research Center director Tami Gavrieli – aims to adjust the behavioral approach toward achieving sustainable activity and argues that urban living is the key to a sustainable future. Focusing on technological innovations and incorporating environmental parameters into economic models may not be sufficient to achieve a sustainable future in Israel and across the globe.
“Sustainable lifestyles are urban lifestyles,” Brachya said. “There is no way in which you can imagine the 7 billion inhabitants of the planet today or the 9 billion in 2030 are going to be able to live any sustainable lifestyle in any way which isn’t predominantly urban.”
The Urban Sustainability project is an outgrowth of a previous program called Israel Sustainability Outlook 2030, completed jointly by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Strategic recommendations of the 2030 project advocated the need for developing models for “sustainable urban life styles.”
The new project begins with the premise that despite the increased resource efficiency and widespread promotion of environmentally friendly products, the world has yet to come close to achieving targets that will protect the planet. The project’s first stage, in which researchers have been honing opinions and creating indicators across a plethora of relevant fields, will be complete within a few months.
Following this stage, the team members will examine models of cities considered sustainable throughout the world and pinpoint their best attributes, said Galit Raz-Dror, coordinator of the Urban Sustainability project.
Afterward, the team members will work with local community members, regulators, corporations and civic organizations, eventually launching a pilot program for urban sustainability in one or more Israeli cities.
“I want to gently and firmly maintain that the three main lines that have been followed by environmentalists don’t bring us to where we need to go to,” Brachya said.
These three main lines are greening the economy and using cleaner resources; greening the consumer toward environmentally friendly product purchases; and assuming that people will act rationally if prices on sustainable products fall, according to Brachya.
Regarding the first two categories particularly, Brachya argued that people are “living completely unsustainable lifestyles, but they are covering it with a little greenery.” For example, she explained, owning a hybrid vehicle yet driving hundreds of kilometers a day does not translate into sustainable behavior, even if the car itself is labeled as environmentally friendly.
“I would prefer that they live sustainable lifestyles,” she said. “Whether they do it because they are environmentally aware or not, it doesn’t matter.”
Comparing behaviors in the cities of Shoham and Tel Aviv as examples, Brachya described how Shoham has achieved green city labels yet is largely home to families with two cars, who drive long distances. On the other hand, whether they intend to be environmentally friendly or not, residents of Tel Aviv tend to have urban lifestyles with a lower ecological footprint, she explained.
“The question is, can we design the choice architecture so that people will choose not necessarily because they think it’s environmentally friendly but because that’s the way to go?” she asked.
The Urban Sustainability project leaders have begun conducting meetings with members of the public from a wide range of sectors, and have come to the conclusion that one or more local authorities will be the ideal place to situate their eventual pilot project, Raz-Dror explained. Particular interested has been demonstrated in Ashdod, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ra’anana and Beersheba, she said.
“If you look at the world scene of sustainability it has in general in recent years moved out of government and become much stronger at the local level,” Brachya said. “You’re finding groups of mayors, local authorities, local communities leading the scene more than governments, who in fact failed to keep their commitments.”
While the team has yet to define exactly what features it would like to see in its urban sustainability pilot programs, Brachya and Raz- Dror brought up San Francisco and Seoul as positive examples of “sharing cities,” with popular digitalized tools such as ride-sharing programs. These cities have begun to embrace the notion that “not everybody has to own everything individually in order to enjoy a high quality lifestyle,” Brachya said.
“This is what we want to offer to people, that the experience of living in the city has an added value in comparison to any other lifestyle,” Raz-Dror said.
Another key element in the future sustainable city will be increased shared usage of public space, such as repurposing kindergartens in the evenings for other uses, Brachya explained.
“If they are under-utilized assets, they are being wasted,” she said.