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The economy benefits people and the environment


The economy of a sustainable and just city focuses on the creation of social, cultural, ecological and other forms of value that benefit people from all walks of life. The inclusive and fair allocation of resources ensures an economy that works for the common good. Production and consumption are organised so as to minimise negative externalities, cultivate non-consumerist values and reduce unnecessary demand. City-makers challenge inherited neoliberal narratives that overemphasize GDP growth, and are open to post-growth and post-capitalist approaches. This openness facilitates experimentation with socially and environmentally innovative concepts such as regeneration, care, sharing and solidarity.

Related keys: #Regional  #Solidarity  #Finance 

Creating new urban economies that serve human needs requires alternative economic approaches and indicators that go beyond the current outsized focus on GDP growth. Research fields such as Degrowth show growth-based economics to be incompatible with sustainability, justice and economic democracy. Existing efforts to put this into practice include Transition initiatives, in which communities come together to remodel their local economies; ecovillages guided by a whole-systems approach that treats economic, ecological, social and cultural dimensions as interdependent; and numerous forms of urban commons. All such initiatives emphasise participation, inclusion and partnership as key foundations of a sustainable and just economy.

Sustainable and just urban economies can only be built from the bottom up. This requires existing decision-makers to commit to a meaningful participation process. Such processes need to tap into existing community networks in order to draw on the needs, perspectives, knowledge and skills that already exist. Bridging different stakeholder groups brings diverse interests and perspectives into dialogue, recognising and addressing conflicts and perhaps identifying unexpected opportunities for collaboration. All these governance arrangements support the inclusive dialogue necessary to create a pluralistic economy; one rooted in sustainability and justice as core principles, rather than secondary concerns.

Alternative city economies based on sustainability and justice directly challenge the unquestioned focus on neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism: They do so by actively recognising that economic priorities should reflect the sustainable provision of human needs rather than uphold unequal and unsustainable systems and power structures. An inclusive urban economy can be an antidote to material and livelihood inequalities and racialised or ethnically exclusive urbanisation. It also simultaneously requires and strengthens civil society participation, and so can help address weakened civil society, in both the short and long term. 

"What we need in order to address the world’s big problems is more than incremental change to the status quo: It will require nothing less than a radical disruption of economic dogma."

Inspirational example

Social Solidarity Economy, Barcelona

The social solidarity economy (SSE) in Barcelona draws on long-standing traditions of collaboration, mutual aid, commoning and cooperativism, and is an important force for economic transformation in the city and across Catalunya.

2016 study reported a total of 4,718 separate socio-economic initiatives dedicated to a more equitable and sustainable economy in the city, many of which are actively networked at neighbourhood, city and regional scales. Against a background of rising unemployment in the city, employment in workers’ cooperatives rose by more than half between 2009 and 2014. Support from Barcelona's municipal government has accelerated since the citizens' movement Barcelona En Comú came to power in 2015. A dedicated Impulse Plan includes targeted financial support for new SSE projects and pays particular attention to addressing structural inequalities. The city administration has also taken action against corporate dominance of key sectors such as water and housing, including efforts toward the remunicipalisation of energy services.

Team building

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!

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