#44 - 4 September 2020

“Cities of the world, unite”: will the cities save the world?

In 2019, the mass protests organized in cities around the world reminded us that the fight against the climate crisis is not yet up to the challenge. Can cities succeed where cities failed?

It is precisely because they are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and are at the heart of the problem that cities want to be at the heart of solutions. They will have no other choice: while nearly 60% of the world's population is urban – a figure that could reach 75% in thirty years –, urban-dwellers will ask them to act, especially as, for instance, rising temperatures make certain cities hardly livable several weeks during summer. Another reason cities might want to position themselves at the forefront of climate change: in the competition to attract residents and investors, fighting climate change can only win them points.

Cities have both the ambition and the means to act, especially as they have leverage over the two main sources of CO2 emissions in France: buildings and mobility. In a highly centralized country like France, cities may need the state, but they also have readily effective tools, such as urban transportation plans and local urbanism plans.

Cities must also use their ability to cooperate: they may well be competitors, but they are also partners. When Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and explained that he cared about Pittsburgh, not Paris, Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, replied: “As the mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future”. A wonderful way to explain the daily work that city networks around the world do to learn, progress, and replicate. Against a backdrop of rising protectionism and the retreat of states, cities are going against the tide: you could say that, as far as climate change is concerned, they have made the slogan “cities of all countries, unite” their own. – Cécile Maisonneuve, President

→ This op-ed is an excerpt from recent chronicles by Cécile Maisonneuve, broadcast on France Info. Find all podcasts and transcripts of the radio program “My city tomorrow” (in French) here.


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

“R2D2 BILL” – Such is the nickname of a law providing for the possibility to deploy delivery robots in Utah. While similar laws have been passed or are in the making in other states, they have been met with mixed responses, with promises of reduced pollution and congestion but also concerns about accidents. However, Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at USC, notes that “the bills don’t mean you’ll wake up tomorrow to an Amazon robot knocking on your door”. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: read our conversation with Laetitia Dablanc, Director of Research at the University Gustave Eiffel/IFSTTAR and a member of MetroFreight, about regulating the urban logistics market (in French).

– … the podcasts of the International Association of Public Transport Australia / New Zealanddedicated to “Women Who Move Nations”: the last broadcast features the Hon. Rita Saffioti, Western Australia’s Minister for Transport and Planning, who discusses the development projects she has led, including the Metronet project, which aims to improve quality of life in Perth through a combination of economic, transport, and housing planning. – Sarah Cosatto

MEET ME ON HIGH STREET – In the United Kingdom, between 29% and 54% of shops did not reopen after lockdown, with this figure varying from one city to another. Initial studies conducted by the Local Data Company and the University of Oxford Covid-19 Impact Monitor have shown that although teleworkers are returning to stores near their home, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the activity of stores surrounding office spaces, which are sometimes completely deserted. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our research project about the return of the economy to the city-center.

ALL JOKES ASIDE… – What do postal services and public transit have in common? It seems they share the ambivalence between their public service duty and the pressure for performance. Confronted to the efficiency standards of its for-profit competitors but looked upon favorably but its users, public transit however has to deal with a fall in ridership since the late 2010s. A 2019 study about Los Angeles explored this paradox : “Why do people vote for transit but don’t use it?” Complex questions require complex answers. – Romain Morin, Research Assistant

→ Related: discover our new report about funding solutions for mobility in a post-carbon world and try our simulation tool.

FIREPROOF? – This year, wildfires have taken a great toll on California. However, experts warn that Sonoma county might be just as vulnerable to the next great fire as new homes are often made from wood. This questions the ways to regulate new constructions in areas prone to wildfire and to – literally – build their resilience. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our extensive work on urban resilience.

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