a new era in human-environment relations

Julian Agyeman

“We know what we need to do, we just aren’t doing it. The knowledge is not the problem it’s the attitudes it’s aligning values it’s the political will and confidence to take action.”

Julian Agyeman takes an optimistic approach to thinking about the Anthropocene and the future of our world.  After speaking with him and listening to his talk, I became re-energized and excited to create a better future for everyone.

Agyeman would be considered an activist and specialist of environmental justice. He believes that everyone is entitled to live a healthy, sustainable, and safe life regardless of race, economic status, or upbringing.  Much of his talk and interview focused on his idea of “Just Sustainability.”  To paraphrase, this term relates to way of life that he believes cities and communities can obtain: one in which all individuals live in a way that is sustainable for not only our environment but also for our society.  Agyeman’s ultimate vision entails the creation of sustainable cities, or smart cities, as he calls them,  to enhance the quality of life and help eliminate inequalities.

One of Agyeman’s pressing points was the concept of space and how cities utilize it.  Agyeman compares the  city streets in Sweden to those in the United States and analyzes the size, usage, and accessibility of each. Like the United States, Sweden’s main streets contain buses, cars, bikes, and pedestrians. The difference, Agyeman explains, is that Sweden thinks about how the built environment works and how to make it efficient and easily accessible for those who are biking, walking, or taking the bus; cars have the least amount of flexibility and accessibility.  Each mode of transportation has its own lane and bikers have the right of way.  In the United States, the roads in cities are always crowded and designed with drivers in mind, discouraging individuals from using public transportation or walking–both of which help cities become more sustainable.  This is just one of many examples that Agyeman uses to show how much the structure of the built environment impacts the overall sustainability and accessibility of cities.

Agyeman also touched on the physical size of the United States and the obstacles it presents for making positive environmental change. He mentions how many European cities have completely separate paths for bikers and pedestrians, but this concept is not entirely realistic in the United States. Rather, Agyeman suggests that the United States works on providing a better mass transportation system to cut down on each individual’s carbon footprint. Ultimately, Agyeman encouraged us to embrace the challenges of our future and to implement strategies like sharing cities in order to create a more sustainable relationship with the environment.