“A lot of cities are trying to become green cities,” said Karen Seto in part two of an interview with ECSP about her recently published article, “A Meta-Analysis of Global Urban Land Expansion,” co-authored with Michail Fragkias, Burak Güneralp, and Michael K. Reilly. “I think one of the main policy implications of our study is that how a city urbanizes is critical, because one of the things we are finding is that urban land is growing faster than urban population, and in some cases it is growing much faster.”
Seto said that the cities with the best prospects for implementing green growth and expansion strategies “tend to focus on the low-hanging fruit,” such as planting trees or constructing buildings with green roofs. From the public’s perspective, these types of measures are relatively painless because they “don’t require changing people’s behavior.”
More challenging, said Seto, will be getting rapidly expanding cities to anchor future development around public-transit systems, especially given the changing lifestyle preferences of upwardly mobile urban populations across China and India, for whom private car ownership serves as an important status symbol.
Still, Seto said she is tentatively optimistic about city planners’ ability to grow cities in a sustainable fashion. “We’ve experienced this rapid growth of urban population and urban land areas, but we’re also seeing that over the next 20 years, according to the UN, we’re going to see even more people living in urban areas,” she said.
“We have this window of opportunity to really shape the way in which cities get developed, and I think that’s really one of the big messages of the study.”