Preview | Gary Gardner

In the first decade of this new century, humans passed a historic threshold when half of us were estimated to be living in cities. We became, for the first time, a predominantly urban species. Our journey toward Homo urbanis over the past 12,000 years or so was driven by a series of social, environmental, and technological innovations that expanded the materials and energy available to humans to make city living possible and attractive.

History is an important teacher for cities seeking to become sustainable. It offers a long-range framework that highlights the non-viability of modern economies built on throwaway fossil fuels and wasteful materials use. How cities might offer a dignified life for all, in harmony with nature, remains an open question. But the historical record suggests that materials and energy will have a large role in shaping whether and how such a goal is achieved.

“Creating sustainable cities for all will require great creativity as well as decidedly lower levels of consumption.”

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