Earth Day 2022: Creating sustainable cities

Building sustainable cities starts with smart urban design

April 22nd marks Earth Day, giving us an opportunity to look at our world through a more environmentally-conscious, sustainable lens. Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a way to mobilize people worldwide to take action to restore our planet. The public efforts of that very first Earth Day had long-reaching ripple effects over the years to come in the United States and around the globe, resulting in the emergence of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Canopy Project, and many other significant projects aiming to protect our communities.

Earth Day 2022 centers on the theme Invest in Our Planet, calling for individuals to “act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably).” In celebration, we have compiled several collections that address these areas—and today, in our second piece in the series, we focus on “implementing equitably.” The books below call for compelling, everyday solutions to the environmental challenges within our communities—such as electrifying our energy infrastructure, making city streets safe for more sustainable modes of transportation, and fairly rethinking elements of urban design

Explore our first and third collections in this series, and read about our books on sustainability and the environment below.

Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future by Saul Griffith

Climate change is a planetary emergency. We have to do something now—but what? Saul Griffith has a plan. In Electrify, Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint—optimistic but feasible—for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future.

“Surprisingly optimistic, realistic, and persuasive.” —Kirkus

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows—ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity—for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization. Smil describes humanity’s energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview.

“Smil goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans’ ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years.” —Bill Gates, Gates Notes, Best Books of the Year

Cycling for Sustainable Cities edited by Ralph Buehler and John Pucher 

Cycling is the most sustainable means of urban travel, practical for most short- and medium-distance trips—commuting to and from work and school, shopping, visiting friends—as well as for recreation and exercise. Cycling promotes physical, social, and mental health, helps reduce car use, enhances mobility and independence, and is economical for both public and personal budgets. Cycling should be made feasible for everyone and not limited to especially fit, daring, well-trained cyclists riding expensive bicycles. Cycling for Sustainable Cities shows how to make city cycling safe, practical, and convenient for all ages and abilities.

Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities by Duncan McLaren and Julian Agyeman

The future of humanity is urban, and the nature of urban space enables, and necessitates, sharing—of resources, goods and services, experiences. Yet traditional forms of sharing have been undermined in modern cities by social fragmentation and commercialization of the public realm. In Sharing Cities, Duncan McLaren and Julian Agyeman argue that the intersection of cities’ highly networked physical space with new digital technologies and new mediated forms of sharing offers cities the opportunity to connect smart technology to justice, solidarity, and sustainability. McLaren and Agyeman explore the opportunities and risks for sustainability, solidarity, and justice in the changing nature of sharing.

Sharing Cities is a wake-up call to policy makers, businesspeople, and community leaders: There has never been a better—or more urgent—time to build a shared urban future.” —Stanford Social Innovation Review

Engaging the Everyday: Environmental Social Criticism and the Resonance Dilemma by John M. Meyer

Far-reaching efforts to address environmental issues rarely seem to resonate with citizens of the United States or other wealthy postindustrial societies. In Engaging the Everyday, John Meyer considers this impediment to action on environmental problems—which he terms “the resonance dilemma”—and argues that an environmental agenda that emerges from everyday concerns would resonate more deeply with ordinary citizens. Meyer explores the contours of this alternative, theorizing both obstacles and opportunities and then considering it in terms of three everyday areas of material practice: land use, transportation by automobile, and home dwelling. Meyer’s innovative analysis offers a grounded basis for reshaping our talk about political concepts and values.

“Engaging the Everyday isn’t a book you read every day. Yet again, John Meyer, one of the most interesting environmental philosophers, thinks outside the box. This time it is about how we rather than ‘the system’ or ‘corporations’ could limit the harm to the environment.” —Avner de-Shalit, The Hebrew University; coauthor of The Spirit of Cities

The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination by Matthew Gandy

Water lies at the intersection of landscape and infrastructure, crossing between visible and invisible domains of urban space, in the tanks and buckets of the global South and the vast subterranean technological networks of the global North. In this book, Matthew Gandy considers the cultural and material significance of water through the experiences of six cities: Paris, Berlin, Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and London. Tracing the evolving relationships among modernity, nature, and the urban imagination, from different vantage points and through different periods, Gandy uses water as a lens through which to observe both the ambiguities and the limits of nature as conventionally understood. 

“Matthew Gandy has written a new and potentially important examination of place and water, providing evidence and insight into the experiencing, making, and consuming of water in modernity.” Antipode

Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City by Isabelle Anguelovski

Environmental justice as studied in a variety of disciplines is most often associated with redressing disproportionate exposure to pollution, contamination, and toxic sites. In Neighborhood as Refuge, Isabelle Anguelovski takes a broader view of environmental justice, examining wide-ranging comprehensive efforts at neighborhood environmental revitalization that include parks, urban agriculture, fresh food markets, playgrounds, housing, and waste management. She investigates and compares three minority, low-income neighborhoods that were organized to improve environmental quality and livability: Casc Antic, in Barcelona; Dudley, in the Roxbury section of Boston; and Cayo Hueso, in Havana. Anguelovski presents a new holistic framework for understanding environmental justice action in cities, with the right to a healthy community environment at its core.

“Isabelle Anguelovski shows that academics can make a powerful contribution to the work of environmental activists who are struggling in areas of extreme poverty and civic neglect.” London School of Economics Review of Books

Politics of Urban Runoff: Nature, Technology, and the Sustainable City by Andrew Karvonen

When rain falls on the city, it creates urban runoff that causes flooding, erosion, and water pollution. Municipal engineers manage a complex network of technical and natural systems to treat and remove these temporary water flows from cities as quickly as possible. Urban runoff is frequently discussed in terms of technical expertise and environmental management, but it encompasses a multitude of such nontechnical issues as land use, quality of life, governance, aesthetics, and community identity, and is central to the larger debates on creating more sustainable and livable cities. In this book, Andrew Karvonen uses urban runoff as a lens to view the relationships among nature, technology, and society. Offering theoretical insights from urban environmental history, human geography, landscape and ecological planning, and science and technology studies as well as empirical evidence from case studies, Karvonen proposes a new relational politics of urban nature.

“Andrew Karvonen blends literary theory, history, the social and natural sciences and other disciplines to shed new light on the relationship between urban ecology and environmental politics.” —William Shutkin, President, Presidio Graduate School; author of The Land That Could Be

Repairing Infrastructures: The Maintenance of Materiality and Power by Christopher R. Henke and Benjamin Sims

Infrastructures—communication, food, transportation, energy, and information—are all around us, and their enduring function and influence depend on the constant work of repair. In this book, Christopher Henke and Benjamin Sims explore the causes and consequences of the strange, ambivalent, and increasingly central role of infrastructure repair in modern life. Henke and Sims offer examples, from local to global, to investigate not only the role of repair in maintaining infrastructures themselves but also the social and political orders that are created and sustained through them. Repair can encompass not only the kind of work we most commonly associate with the term but also any set of practices aimed at restoring a sense of normalcy or credibility to the places and institutions we inhabit in everyday life. 

“Henke and Sims introduce many of the current perspectives on repair, maintainers, and the important role they play in society.” —Technology and Culture

Modernizing America’s Electricity Infrastructure by Mason Willrich

America’s aging electricity infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly even as the need for highly reliable electric service—driven by the explosion of digital technology—continues to rise. Largely missing from national discussions, however, is a coherent, comprehensive national strategy for modernizing this critical infrastructure. Energy expert Mason Willrich presents just such a strategy in this book, connecting the dots across electric utilities, independent suppliers, government bureaucracies, political jurisdictions, and academic disciplines. He explains the need for a coherent approach, offers a framework for analyzing policy options, and proposes a step-by-step strategy for modernizing electrical infrastructure, end-to-end, in a way that ensures the delivery of affordable, reliable, secure, and environmentally sustainable electricity services.

“Mason Willrich draws on a lifetime of experience and his innate common sense to provide an important strategy for dealing with our electricity infrastructure. Read and learn.” —George P. Shultz, Energy Policy Task Force, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Tomorrow’s Economy: A Guide to Creating Healthy Green Growth by Per Espen Stoknes

In Tomorrow’s Economy, Per Espen Stoknes reframes the hot-button issue of economic growth. Going beyond the usual pro-growth versus anti-growth debate, Stoknes calls for healthy growth. Healthy economic growth is more regenerative than wasteful, repairs problems rather than greenwashing them, and restores equity rather than exacerbating inequalities. Stoknes—a psychologist, economist, climate strategy researcher, and green-tech entrepreneur—shows that we already have the tools to achieve healthy growth, but our success depends on transformations in scaling innovations, government practices, and individual behaviors. Stoknes provides a compass to guide us toward the mindset, mechanisms, and possibilities of healthy growth.

“Too often growth supporters and anti-growthers come to loggerheads, neglecting the crucial issue of what kind of economic growth we’re creating. Stoknes’s growth compass is a crucial tool to guide us toward a finer future.” —Hunter Lovins, coauthor of Natural Capitalism

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