Sustainable Cities™

Leo Abruzzese: Cities will have to choose to be sustainable

Leo Abruzzese, Global Forecasting Director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, discusses the importance of cities making a choice to either be sustainable or not. In Western cities we have to focus on both transport and energy issues to ensure the future sustainability. Finally he explains why objective measures, showing how cities are performing in relation to sustainability, are important.

How would you define the sustainable city of the future?

It is a good question. Cities will have to make a choice to either be sustainable or not. And cities have a lot of different priorities. Especially in emerging markets the city might choose to prioritise poverty reductions or health care. In that way a sustainable city is going to have to start with a city that chooses to make that a priority. Because, sustainability is an important priority but it is not the only priority. So that is going to be the first decision.

Cities will probably be more sustainable if they become wealthier, since it sometimes takes investments to produce sustainable cities. It often pays for itself over time, but there is a big upfront cost. So a sustainable city in the future is probably going to be a city that is economically successful. Those are preconditions, I would say, before you can determine what the city looks like.

What do you see as the greatest task for Western cities in the future in terms of sustainability?

The tasks in the Western city will be different than they will be in emerging markets. I don't know if you can generalize here and I don't think, honestly, that there is a one size fits all for the question.

But in the United States there is a very big car culture and one could argue that over time in the United States a priority may be to get people out of cars or else to produce more environmentally sustainable transport. For the United States I would say the greatest task is transport and fuels and somewhat less dependence on cars.

In Europe there is not as much of a car culture, trains are more widely used and distances are shorter. In relation to transport Europe is ahead of the United States and I don't think you will have the same priority and tasks here. Probably one of the key questions in Europe is what the energy of the future will be? At the moment energy consumption is still very reliant on coal, oil and natural gas. And a lot of these sources need to be drawn in from other markets. So both from a political and ecological perspective, I guess Europe want to focus on renewable energy.

Why is the Green City Index important today?

Any index, but especially this one, is important because we try to produce an objective measure of how cities are performing. Environmental topics, health topics or any other topic can become very controversial and political. What we are trying to do, is to simply look at the data collected in an objective fashion and produce a result that is credible and dependable. So we are trying to get away from the politics and just try to be rigorist and bring good economic principles to this. And if you do that, hopefully you have a fair, objective measure that people can use as a guide.

About Leo Abruzzese

Leo_Abruzzese_EIU_281110 As Global Forecasting Director Leo Abruzzese is responsible for the Economist Intelligence Unit's research and editorial operations in the Americas. Leo Abruzzese has been involved in the research behind the Green City Index. Today he is based in New York.

Leo has held a number of positions at the Economist Intelligence Unit, including Director of Wire Services, with responsibility for the company's country risk, executive management and industry web analysis. He also served as Deputy Director of the Country Analysis division, where he helped to manage a team of editors and analysts preparing EIU's economic, political and risk forecasts. Besides he served on the Asia team, where he was lead analyst for India.

Prior to joining the EIU, Leo was the Washington-based Editorial Director of The Journal of Commerce; he spent nearly 20 years covering economics, trade, finance, transportation and competition policy before Congress and many government agencies. Leo has a B.A. in liberal arts from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He chairs events for Economist Conferences and has been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, CBS and Al-Jazeera.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014