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Sustainability in the City: London, England



You probably don’t need to be one of the 8.3 million people who live in London to instinctively raise an eyebrow at the idea of “the big smoke” being a sustainable city.

But, according to a new index, that’s just what it is. Taking a wide-angle view of sustainability, the IESE Cities in Motion Index considers 10 key dimensions that define a city: governance, public management, urban planning, technology, the environment, international outreach, social cohesion, human capital and the economy.  

Out of 135 global cities, London is ranked second for its performance in these areas, behind Tokyo and ahead of New York.

It is deemed to be the most influential city internationally, and the world leader in technological innovations. It is ranked fifth best for its economy and urban planning, 10th best in terms of public transport and sixth best environmentally. 

While this is encouraging, we should probably not start lauding London as a model of sustainability anytime soon. 

Though it does have an excellent public transport system, London’s roads remain congested and a far from the most welcoming to cyclists.  

The capital’s air pollution problems were brought into sharp focus by the most recent smog crisis. Though authorities deflected the issue, overplaying the role of Saharan dust with the willing aid of most of the mainstream media, London’s air quality is severely poor. 

Fumes generated mostly from the burning of fossil fuels are said to be “the biggest public health risk after smoking” in the UK. Across the country in 2010, one in 12 deaths related to air pollution occurred in London.

The IESE index identified that poor social cohesion (London is ranked 96th out of 135 in this regard)could be a factor that pushes London down its rankings in the future, and its authors certainly have a point.

Rent and house prices in the capital are also anything but sustainable, as is London’s growing chasm between the filthy rich and the struggling poor.

However, the findings of the Cities in Motions Index act as a reminder that for all its faults, and the concerns over whether its success comes at the cost of the rest of the UK, London is a capital to be proud of.

With strong leadership and encouragement, it could become a city with a sustainable approach worthy of its international status.

Photo: Tom Soper Photography via Flickr

Further reading:

Sustainability in the city: Mexico City, Mexico

Sustainability in the city: Malmö, Sweden

Sustainability in the city: Bogotá, Colombia

Sustainability in the city: Stockholm, Sweden

Sustainability in the city: Vancouver, Canada


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