Five cities shift from industry to equity

Industrial legacy cities have been significantly impacted by the decline of manufacturing, which left them with soaring unemployment, rapid population loss and a legacy of environmental pollution. In the face of these challenges, city governments have been working to advance their economic and environmental transitions while embracing their industrial heritage and spearheading ambitious sustainability efforts. In doing so, they have accumulated outstanding knowledge and are receiving growing recognition for their decade-long efforts. Recognizing the specific challenges for low-income communities, they are moving even further by aiming to include all their citizens in this transition journey.

Five such cities have been selected for a global peer exchange exercise to explore social equity in their sustainability planning as part of the Urban Transitions Alliance, a city network and knowledge-exchange hub that supports former and current industrial municipalities to identify common challenges, share knowledge and develop solutions tailored to their individual sustainability transitions. Here are five strategies these cities are using to include equitable development in their sustainability initiatives.


1. Planning a circular economy with and for residents

Turku, Finland, aims to achieve a zero-emission and zero-waste future, as well as a low ecological footprint by 2040 while strengthening social equity and community links. The city is shifting towards consumption and production patterns that support the 1.5-degree climate target. In practice, this means transitioning away from extractive industrial practices in key sectors such as food, transport and logistics, water, buildings and construction, and energy. For each of these, Turku is planning for policy changes that will support the transition, while systematically assessing how to strengthen the social equity outcomes of each policy intervention in all five priority areas. Residents are also being actively engaged, fostering community-driven circular economy initiatives and ensuring that the city’s efforts will benefit all.


2. Fostering a renewable energy transition through new employment models

Pittsburgh, USA, is embarking on efforts towards reducing 75 percent of carbon emissions in the city administration by 2030 while seeking to generate up to 110,000 new full-time positions in the renewable energy sector. The key element of this transition is a new platform for electricity procurement to enable Pittsburgh’s buying cooperative, a group of 30 municipal agencies, to shift to renewable energy through power purchase contracts. Not only will these new contracts allow Pittsburgh to substantially increase shares of renewables, but they are also expected to stimulate local workforce development with quality jobs in the areas of solar, wind and hydro energy. The city is already cooperating with local training agencies like the Pittsburgh Energy Innovation Center to ensure local talent is available to support Pittsburgh’s climate targets.


3. Including communities in zero-waste initiatives

E-Town, an urban district in Beijing, China, will leverage its zero-waste pilot program to actively engage residents in improving the district’s environmental impacts and social needs. In particular, E-Town is looking at how industries and educational institutions can advance this transition and how similar projects can provide local job opportunities. Additionally, the district is exploring ways to design zero-waste measures with all residents in mind, ensuring public acceptance and testing which fee models incentivize waste reduction. Not only do these actions help position E-Town as a zero-waste pioneer in China, but they also support the development of mechanisms for effective and continuous public participation in zero-waste strategies and serve as a model for replication in other areas.


4. Designing an inclusive climate haven

Buffalo, USA, is positioning itself as a uniquely inclusive climate refuge, where all are welcome and residents are at the core of sustainability planning. Acknowledging its abundant access to water, moderate risk towards climate change impacts, vacant housing and large scale infrastructure, Buffalo aims to become a safe, equitable and inclusive city that welcomes climate migrants. The city is looking to incorporate a cross-cutting equity focus in its climate adaptation and mitigation efforts to reduce social inequalities, one of its main transition challenges. In particular, Buffalo will adapt the equity framework developed for its award-winning Raincheck 2.0 program – an infrastructure technology toolkit to maximize stormwater, environmental, equity and economic benefits -, adjusting it to integrate an equity lens into the cities’ climate planning. Equity components will be assessed and addressed in interventions such as upgrading old buildings and ageing infrastructure for current and new residents, which could aggravate trends of gentrification.


5. Encouraging inter-departmental collaboration

Dortmund, Germany, is exploring how to integrate climate considerations into every aspect of the city’s departments, operations and policy-making while strengthening equity outcomes of these interventions. All city departments are to assess climate relevance in their planning actions, preferring solutions with positive effects on climate and environmental protection. In the coming months, climate considerations will be systematically integrated into all areas of local government operations and policy-making. This will require designing new standards and processes, allocating new roles and responsibilities among departments, and assessing guidelines for the city’s initiatives. As social equity should be systematically strengthened, collaboration activities and stakeholder conversations are planned between different departments.


All the initiatives above are explored within annual Urban Transitions Alliance Challenges, which are current issues submitted by member cities to receive input and recommendations through the Alliance network. All challenges, as well as further equity-related topics of interest, are discussed through the Urban Transition Alliance webinar series.

The Urban Transitions Alliance is an initiative led by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, a global network of more than 1,750 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development, and supported by the Stiftung Mercator, a German foundation committed to solidarity and equal opportunities.