USP514 Session 4 Notes

September 14th and 16th
Session Four: Sustainable Development in Historical Context
This session will focus on the origins of the concept of sustainable development and how it is connected to the concept of development. Our discussion will be guided by the following questions:

  1. What is meant by the term “development”?
    • To improve the accessibility or availability of resources
    • Policies or technologies that are supposed to improve society
    • United Nations defines development as improving quality of life
  2. What principles undergird the concept of development?
    • Land use planning
    • Reducing waste
    • Limiting externalities
    • Expansion/ growth
  3. What organizations are principally responsible for development efforts?
    • Private equity
    • Public institutions
  4. How is the concept of sustainable development connected to the concept of development?
    • Sustainable development is a reaction to the concept of development
    • Post WW2
      • Many countries involved
      • Huge shifts in industrial production and widespread devastation to existing industrial infrastructure everywhere except the United States
      • United States came out of the war with a major advantage in industrial production capacity
      • This advantage was leveraged to create many new global institutions to reinforce that power and leverage it against any nation which did not comply with our foreign policies
      • Cold war divisions created
        • Economic and political structures created to divide the world into two factions and pit them against each other
        • Financing
          • Aid was given out with conditions which allowed the US to politically transform much of the world, leading to a politically compliant international system where no one had the power to challenge the US’ supremacy.
          • Most of the third world was given debt instead of aid, which they were required to pay back.
          • “Structural adjustment” transferred public institutions and property to private companies along with saddling the nations with debt.
          • Funded extraction of wealth from the developing world
        • Military support
        • Trade agreements
        • Borders
          • Lots of new nations invented out of thin air and pitted against each other
          • Triangular Diplomacy: Kissinger’s doctrine for dividing and conquering China and the USSR
        • Institutions
          • A way of implementing shared ideological frameworks across different nations and cultures
          • International banking systems created
            • World Bank
            • International Monetary Fund
            • Two other now-defunct international banks
          • United Nations
            • Funded by signatories
            • Creates institutions, banking systems
            • Serves as a forum for negotiating international treaties and other issues
          • NATO
        • Political agreements
  5. How is the concept of sustainable development different from the concept of development?
    • The goal of conventional development is typically to make as much money as possible.
      • Neoliberalism and trickle-down economics
      • Chicago school of economics/ neoclassical economics
      • Trickle down and development theory are not an accurate view of the world. They relied on massive government intervention and widespread high wages which now don’t exist. There was a time during the early neoliberal era when wages were high because of the post-war jump in development. This led to a false sense that this was a natural fact rather than a temporary and artificially created situation. This situation no longer exists, and the devotion to this flawed ideology is now contributing to harm rather than good.
    • The UN defines the goal of sustainable development as improving quality of life.
      • Doughnut economics and sustainable/ regenerative design
    • Brundtland Commission
      • Represented the UN and Central Banks to develop an official institutional perspective of sustainable development.
      • Internal definition: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
      • How do we measure these needs?
      • Whose needs do we measure?
    • Pinderhughes definition: The term sustainable development is used differently by different groups and organizations. In this clzss we will use the term to encompass urban planning and policy approaches that can be used to minimize a city’s negative impact on the environment while providing urban residents with the infrastructure and services they need to sustain a high quality of urban life.
  6. What does the concept “anthropocena era” refer to and why is this an important concept?
  7. What is mean by the concept “triple bottom line” and how does it related to the concept of sustainable development?
  8. Are the terms “sustainable development” and “green cities” the same?

Second part

  1. How do different groups and organizations define the term “sustainable development”?
    1.  Bruntland/ Early UN Definition: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
    2. Widespread group of thinkers worked on defining those needs
      1. Three Es
        1. Economy
        2. Environment
        3. Equity
      2. Three Ps
        1. Profit
        2. Planet
        3. People
    3. Next generation of UN research comes up with the 17 SDGs
  2. What do we mean when we use the term “sustainable cities”?
    1. The sustainable development concept is being used in an urban context
  3. What do we mean when we use the term “ecological cities”?
  4. What can we learn from case studies of ecological cities?
  1.  Find one song that focuses on issues of equity.
  2. Bring the
    1. name (Retribution by Tanya Tagaq)
    2. lyrics
    3. tape of the song (on your phone or through a link) to class to share with others.
  3. Be prepared to talk about why you chose this song in relation to our discussion of equity.
    1. It’s a commentary on the exploitation of the tar sands on Inuk lands which benefits white settler colonists while leaving enormous destruction for native people to endure.


Other Notes

  • When Haiti overthrew the French slavers, it was required by the international community to reimburse France for the cost of establishing slavery, the cost of the freed slaves, and the future revenue France expected to earn from slavery in Haiti.
    • This has never happened except for Haiti
  • Equitable development is an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities through policies and programs that reduce disparities while fostering places that are healthy and vibrant. It is increasingly considered a strong place-based action for creating strong and livable communities.
    • Driven by priorities and values as well as clear expectations that the outcomes from development need to be responsive to underserved populations and vulnerable groups, in addition to using innovative design strategies and sustainable policies, acknowledging and understanding both is necessary for sustaining environmental justice.
    • Locally-based approach
    • Shock Doctrine: The opportunity to start an equitable development approach may arise from a catalytic event – such as undertaking a large infrastructure project or a broad civic campaign
      • Unexpected stressors and crises may serve as a catalyst for fundamental social change and the move towards equitable development.
        • Move to worker-owned cooperatives
        • Move to better fire-resistant construction materials
        • Longshoremen union fighting the development of luxury condos at the Port Of Oakland
    • US and international corporate hotel interests pressured Bali through structural adjustment and other means to abandon damaged fishing communities rather than repair them.
      • Military was brought in to force residents out of ancestral homes and demolish them
      • International hotel industry bought the abandoned land and replaced it with hotels
      • If it was unsafe for farmers to live on their ancestral land then how is it safe for hotel industry?
        • Is that really the question we should be asking?
    • Oakland moms saga
      • Unhoused moms move into abandoned property, clean it up and make it livable.
      • Landowners who had abandoned the land demand it back.
      • City offers to buy the home for the moms at market rate
      • Land owner refuses
      • Enormous social pressure and widespread protests
      • Land owner caves
  • Triple Bottom Line
    • as opposed to bottom line = trickle down
    • double bottom line
      • profit + environmental benefits
    • triple bottom line
      • profit + environmental benefits + social equity
  • Many firms which claim to be triple bottom line are not actually
  • Equitable development includes community outreach which drives a set of measurable goals for projects based on needs expressed by the community
  • Equitable development requires accurate and relevant data from the first to the last — what gest measured gets done!
  • To find funding for equitable development, the project needs to leverage equitable community relationships
  • One organization with capacity should lead and coordinate


  • Economic vs Ecological cities
    • Economic cities
      • Build as many enormous homes as possible and sell them for as much as possible
      • Create unsustainable transportation networks to allow people to commute enormous distances to work every day
      • Make it cheaper to drive to work versus using transit
      • Pricing transit by distance means people are unlikely to use it when it would be most impactful
      • No bike lanes
      • Pricing water very low for home monoculture
      • Allowing corporations to break the law and emit toxic levels with trivial fines which are tax deductible
    • Ecological cities
      • Make it hard and expensive to own a car
      • Make public transit cheaper than driving
      • Parking fees and restrictions everywhere


  1. The Anthropocena Epoch 
  2. Sustainable Development Goals
  3. Growing Cities, Just Cities? Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development, Scott Campbell, Journal of the American Planning Association, Summer, 1996.