FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pursuit of a Just and Sustainable Place

by RON JACOBS

Cities are where most humans live, with more people moving to them every day. As anyone who has lived in a big city knows, existence in urban environments is a challenge. This challenge is greater the less money one has. Like everything else, the advent and growth of the neoliberal economy has exacerbated the challenges associated with urban life in a multitude of ways. In response to these challenges, various movements have arisen. Perhaps the most important of those movements is the one involved with creating a just and sustainable existence. A multi-faceted movement, this movement has almost as many interpretations as it does participants.

Intro-just-sus-cover

Many of its most vocal proponents tend to emphasize an approach that fails to fairly address issues of race and class, focusing instead solely on environmental issues and solutions that are often expensive. As a result, many poor and working-class people do not see the movement as one for them, leaving them at the whims of corporations motivated by profit and governments that cater to them.

Julian Agyeman, director of the Department of Urban + Environmental Policy + Planning at Tufts University and co-founder of the Black Environmental Network, places much of his work into this seeming divide. In his latest book, Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning and Practice, Agyeman presents the issues involved in the movement, specifically as to how they relate to other social justice movements more focused on race and class. In the process, he provides an important, essential and convincing challenge to modern sustainablity movements and their approach to questions of race and class. It is to his further credit that he presents this challenge in a manner likely to move efforts inside those movements toward a synthesis that encompasses the intent of the movements while expanding the breadth of their base.

Introducing Just Sustainabilities divides the current situation into three elements. Those elements are food, space and place, and culture. Agyeman presents these elements by pointing out that they serve dual purposes; they are points of contention and also of potential unity. They have all been affected by the capitalist hegemon, for better and worse. These effects have been exacerbated the past couple decades as the neoliberal stage of capital attempts to wipe out any and all opposition to its profit driven pursuit of the end of human time.

Much of his explanation is provided by graphs and statistics, as one might expect from what is essentially an economic and social examination of the where the earth stands now and where it needs to go if humanity wants to truly provide for every human instead of just the relatively privileged. These statistics are enlivened by observations that make the book a good read for those who are not statisticians and economists.

One such observation discusses the role race plays in the creation of bike lanes. While pointing out that non-white bike riders ride because they have to and not because it is a lifestyle choice, Agyeman quotes a Portland bike activist who remarked, “It’s only an issue of safety now that whites are the ones riding bicycles.” He continues, by discussing how the identity of “cyclist” must be expanded beyond the current characterization of the cyclist as white and young. By changing this perceived identity, only then can the discussion of the role bicyclists play in urban transportation be evaluated and addressed. Furthermore, the discussion on bicycles is one that Agyeman replicates in each aspect of modern living.

Agyeman’s text argues for a holistic approach to establishing a sustainable environment that not only encourages social justice but insists on its necessity for such an environment to be established. His writing examines how the poison of historical inequality has been exacerbated by the growth of neoliberal policies and structures, making the challenge faced by sustainability and social justice activists substantially more difficult. This book is written for the classroom and community activist organization, but is just as useful to the individual trying to get a handle on how to go forward in creating a world that is not only sustainable but just. One wishes that city planners would take its lessons to heart more often.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey- The Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail