This week, the Lord Mayor of Dar Es Salaam came to Chicago. Mayor Isaya Mwita Charles was in town, along with the leaders of nine other cities, to accept the C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards, an award supporting cities addressing climate change in concrete and creative ways. The awards were announced at the North American Climate Summit, a gathering of more than 50 mayors from around the world, including Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, who came together to affirm their commitment to environmental action. The winners for the fifth annual awards were narrowed down from a list of 25 finalists announced this September, with half those winners coming from outside the U.S.
It should be noted that this is actually a higher proportion of U.S. award winners than usual, a decision made in recognition of the, ahem, specific challenges to environmental policy coming from the U.S. federal government. But in this era in which American cities find themselves running counter to national policy, a new kind of energy has emerged.
David Miller, the current chair of C40 and the former mayor of Toronto, sees this year’s awards as special, in part because of this renewed focus on local action.
More than 50 mayors from around the world, including Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, who came together to affirm their commitment to environmental action.
“City leadership has been tremendous for the past decade,” he told VICE Impact. “And it was recognized, really in Paris, that cities are the ones actually taking real action in order to address climate.”
The climate leadership of cities will only grow more critical. Today, more than half the world’s population live in cities. By 2050, the UN projects that proportion will increase to over two thirds. We are fast on track to becoming an urban species, and the issues of urbanization — pollution, transportation, waste management — will increase with that shift. It follows then that the winning projects are as ambitious as the problems we face as a species: Copenhagen is recognized for their plan to bring the city to carbon neutrality by 2025, just eight short years away. Wuhan is aiming to remake an industrial waterfront along China’s manufacturing corridor into a space for countering pollution and reclaiming greenspace.
The awards are grouped under five broad categories, each with a corresponding U.S. and international city winner, from mobility to waste. But beyond these structured categories, the awards reflect a reflect a deeper set of themes, chief among them a commitment to inclusion.
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The winning project from New York City tackles the enormously high rates of asthma in the South Bronx. Through the Hunts Point South Bronx Clean Truck Program (HPCTP), the city will incentivize the purchase of low-carbon emission cargo trucks, a leading source of pollution in an area that sees . Similarly, D.C.’s Climate Ready plan sees building socially and economically sustainable neighborhoods in the rapidly gentrifying city as part and parcel of addressing its more obviously climate related problems, such as more punishing rains and hotter summers. It is a holistic view of what it takes to make a city resilient.
Americans have heard repeatedly over this past post-election year that we are more polarized than ever between urban and rural. Cities, we are told, are different. Isolated. Out of touch. But a strange inverse of this logic is that cities, even seemingly disparate ones, have far more that unites than divides them. The problems afflicting residents of Tanzania’s capital city and the people Chicago may seem unconnected, even from a climate perspective — the former is grappling with increased flooding, the latter with more powerful storms and heatwaves. But the lessons each city has learned inform the work of the others.
Copenhagen is recognized for their plan to bring the city to carbon neutrality by 2025, just eight short years away. Wuhan is aiming to remake an industrial waterfront along China’s manufacturing corridor into a space for countering pollution and reclaiming greenspace.
Mayor Isaya Mwita said that interchange is crucial. “It’s important to see other ways we can deal with climate change,” he says, citing the challenges his own city faces as population growth collides head on with increased flooding. “I’m coming here to get exposure and to learn from my friends about how I can solve this problem in my city.”
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