National Academy of Sciences

Key Recommendations of National Academy of Sciences Report: Pathways to Urban Sustainability

By Alan Hecht

cover of the NAS report, a city seen from the skyA new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, sponsored by EPA, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, offers a road map and recommendations to help U.S. cities work toward a more sustainable future. The report, Pathways to Urban Sustainability, defines urban sustainability as a “process by which measurable improvements on near and long term human well-being can be achieved through actions across environmental, economic and social dimensions.”

The publication is timely as EPA is planning future actions on urban and community sustainability and is about to release its Environmental Justice 2020 report.

The Report includes a framework for urban sustainability and draws on lessons learned from case studies of LA, NY, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Cedar Rapids, Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan. Ten findings and recommendations are made including encouraging cities to develop sustainability plans that recognize the synergies among environmental, economic, and social policies and to take advantage of those synergies to advance system approaches to managment.  Cities are urged to develop metrics on social, health, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability.  The Report recommends that community members from across the economic, social, and institutional spectrum be included in identifying, designing, and implementing urban sustainability actions.

While the recommendations are directed specifically toward city leaders and planners, they are relevant to our current work here at EPA. A priority of our research is to advance sustainable and healthy communities: engaging local citizens, developing tools and approaches to support decision makers, identifying indicators and metrics, and advancing social equity and environmental justice.

Looking ahead, the Report makes one very important recommendation for dealing with the changing nature of problems today: “Urban leaders and planners should be cognizant of the rapid pace of factors working against sustainability and should prioritize sustainability initiatives with an appropriate sense of urgency to yield significant progress toward urban sustainability.”

This recommendation reaffirms remarks at the recent Smart Cities Council meeting in DC in September that “there is an urgency for cities to make critical decisions in the next 10 years in order to effective deal with all problems.” The same is true for EPA as we prepare our roadmap for the Agency’s 50th anniversary in 2020. Population growth, increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters, environmental and health impacts due to climate change, infrastructure decline, and land use changes are strongly impacting our economic, social, and environmental well-being. Today it is abundantly clear that we must be out front on issues and aim to build a resilient and sustainable society.

 

About the Author: Alan Hecht is Senior Sustainability Advisor in the Sustainable and Healthy Community Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science & EPA: From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave a speech at the National Academy of Sciences to talk about the role that science plays in EPA’s work. She shared some of her thoughts on EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership. We have reposted that blog below. 

By Gina McCarthy

Official photo of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy: “When we follow the science—we all win.”

Today I had the honor of giving a speech at the National Academy of Sciences to talk about the role that science plays in the work we do at EPA.

Science has been the backbone of the most significant advancements EPA has made in the past four decades and continues to be the engine that drives American prosperity and innovation for the future.

Through science, we uncovered secondhand smoke’s deadly link to lung disease. We set air quality standards to protect our children, our elderly, and our infirmed. Through science we learned that toxic fumes from leaded gasoline harm our kids’ brain development.

With science as our North Star, EPA has steered America away from health risk, and toward a higher quality of life. That’s why it’s worrisome that our science is under assault by a very small—but very vocal—group of critics.

Those critics are playing a dangerous game by discrediting the sound science our families and our businesses depend on everyday—And that’s what doesn’t make sense. I bet when those same critics get sick, they run to doctors and hospitals that rely on science. I bet they check out air quality forecasts from EPA and the National Weather Service—to see if their kids should be playing outside. I bet they buy dishwashers with Energy Star labels, take FDA approved medicine, and eat USDA approved meats.

To those calling EPA untrustworthy and unpopular—I’d like to remind them that without EPA, they wouldn’t have safe drinking water or healthy air. And we have these things because we follow the science—like the law demands.

In addition to ensuring public health, businesses are able to keep their competitive edge on the global stage because science fosters innovation. From smoke-stack scrubbers to catalytic converters—America inspires and innovates the world’s leading pollution control technologies—accounting for more than one and a half million jobs and $44 billion dollars in exports in 2008 alone. That’s more than other big U.S. sectors like plastics and rubber products. I want to encourage us to continue putting our faith in American ingenuity and innovation. The great thing is—our environmental laws recognize the need to cultivate that innovation.

When we follow the science—we all win. We all move forward. We have to keep trusting the leading role of science in America’s continuing story of progress.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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