Founded in 2005, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) is one of eight global Centers of Excellence (CoE) in Future Urban Transport established by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF). CSUD seeks to understand the complexity of interactions between land use and transport through research and education, including student and professional training programs, in addition to working with relevant actors in the government and civil society groups. CSUD’s first project site was located in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region, Kenya, but has since expanded to Haiti’s South Department to focus on more regional planning issues. The complexities of urban and regional development are many and, as cities grow, transportation systems that are socially equitable and environmentally sustainable are key to their success.
The vision of the Center is:
1. To concretely demonstrate that sustainable urban development is a workable process. There is presently a widespread belief that while sustainable urban development is conceptually possible, it is practically impossible because environmental sustainability is antithetical to economic development. One goal of this center is to demonstrate ways in which this “green”-“brown” divide can be bridged.
2. To reposition urban transportation as an active tool for shaping sustainable metropolitan growth in the developing world. To the extent that urban transportation is considered at all in the context of sustainability, it is typically identified with motorized private transport and is therefore seen as an environmental obstacle, rather than more broadly in terms of land use and alternative travel modes and hence as an economic development opportunity. From a purely environmental vantage point urban transport modes stack up in an inverse hierarchy. Pedestrian travel is at the pinnacle and personal motorized transportation at the bottom. In between there is bicycle travel, pedicabs, bus rapid transit, light rail and heavy rail. While there is much to recommend this schema in terms of affordability, environmental sustainability and population health, it is not necessarily always the best model when the need for economic growth is also considered. For example, in a context in which there are comparative advantages to locate certain industries away from residential areas, buses and autos may be better environmentally and economically. The point is that we can at best take this hierarchy as a preferred starting point and not as a final answer. Urban transportation is capable of doing far more to shape a sustainable global urban future, but it needs to be considered in terms of both its environmental and its economic role.
3. To get more resources for development planning in developing cities. One of the barriers to sustainable urban development is the lack of access to vital resources. These resources are usually controlled at the national and international level. Because this Center places transport and land use in a comprehensive context, we envision CSUD as aiding the “scaling up” of successful initiatives from the local to the international level.
4. To train a new generation of planners and researchers who will lead the continuation of the work to foster future sustainable urban development. A key feature of our project is that we intend to use it, not just to research and aid in plan implementation, but to train a new generation of global urban social scientists, researchers and planners in comprehensive interdisciplinary sustainable urban development planning.