Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

In this season of holidays, we have much to be grateful for and much to be concerned about. As I write, we here in the U.S. have completed our 2022 midterm elections. These recent elections should give some hope to others around the world that democracy will survive and hopefully thrive. However, all around the world, it seems that elections are increasingly contentious, with autocracy vying with democracy. For now, politically, we remain “in the woods.”  

In the past 12 years, we have added another billion people to our precious planet. That is seven billion added since the industrial revolution, for a total of eight billion today. The global population grew from one billion in 1800 to 8 billion in 2022. “More people have been born, survived to reproduction, struggled, built, destroyed, loved, hated, and died in the last 100 years than in all of human history before it” (the Cameron Hoppe Project). The United Nations projects population growth to continue adding between 2.5 and 3 billion more people by 2050 and, if circumstances do not change, to double by 2100, reaching up to 17 billion. Even with ever greater major actions on all of our parts, we are in trouble. Difficult times for some. Disastrous for many others. Doubling down on his 11th World Urban Forum (WUF11) pronouncement and on the first day of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Conference of the Parties (COP27), U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the world is “on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

When I was born, the population of the world was 2.5 million. The US was maybe 50-50 rural to urban. It is now 80% urban. The world was 20% urban; it is now 60% and growing. And, as noted hopefully by the World Resources Institute, “by 2030, cities will account for nearly three-quarters of world energy use. In most cities, buildings account for more than half of this consumption. But 75% of the urban infrastructure that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built, presenting a huge opportunity to shape more resource-efficient, healthy, low-carbon cities through better buildings”.

This year saw many large international gatherings that focused on the future of the planet. In my previous message, I wrote about the WUF11 involving 18,000 attendees that took place in June in Katowice, Poland. The COP27 took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, concluded on November 18th, and brought together countries from around the world to implement existing goals and strengthen commitments.  Figures on attendance went as high as 40,000. Reports from the field and following the event are significant. The size of the gathering itself was significant.  

Below are some of the areas under discussion, many that surfaced during COP 27, that need to be addressed soon if we are going to achieve the goals set forth by the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the International Panel on Climate Change 2022 (IPCC).

Village in Bulakan flooded by the high tide. The islands in Manila Bay in Bulacan Province are being inundated by every high tide as the sea advances. Credit: James Whitlow Delano for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Global warming: 1.5C degrees achievability. Major discussions as to whether or not this is really possible and certainly at the top of the list. 

Loss and damage. Finally, fully illuminated, the need for a mechanism providing climate finance to help countries address climate-induced threats to their existence so that they can recover, rebuild, or even relocate from the impacts of disasters or slow-onset events they suffer through no fault of their own.  Denmark stepped up as the first country to provide funds, and the U.S. has also committed to doing so.  

Urbanization. Necessity of full recognition of the reality. 

Regenerative agriculture. Healing the soil and developing the necessary urban-rural links to ensure food security globally.

Women, older persons, marginalized persons, and inclusivity. Of the 110 heads of state and government who gathered at COP27, only seven were women. Gender engagement, broadly defined and including different ages and persuasions, remains too limited, and other marginalized local communities at the forefront of the climate crisis need to be included in deliberations going forward. (ActionAid Association) (Inside Climate News. 11.19.22).

Everything water. Sea level rise, land subsidence, water capture, water management, clean drinking water, domestic water delivery, wastewater reuse, and the other multiple issues of water soon to be unpacked at the UN 2023 Water Conference need constant attention as these are critical, dynamic concerns.

Leadership, Governance, and Finance. Local governance, global accountability, “financing through multi-level governance” (WRI), (WEF).

Decarbonization. Embodied carbon, operational carbon, carbon sequestration, low carbon finance, mass timber, and other issues of materials and construction, including 3D printing.

Everything energy. Reducing fossil fuel production and consumption, increasing renewables, researching new sources and resources, reducing energy use in general, and energy equity.

Circular economy. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and manage waste streams in blue and green economies and manage or eliminate waste, especially plastics. 

Public and private responsibilities, opportunities, and partnerships. Multiple issues at multiple scales. 

Climate change. Resilience, mitigation, and adaptation are all important, but it is now time and necessary to focus more on adaptation.

Nature-based solutions. A United States Roadmap identified five strategic areas for action: (1) updating policies to accelerate nature-based solutions, (2) unlocking funding for nature-based solutions, (3) leading with Federal facilities and assets, (4) training the nature-based solutions workforce, and (5) prioritizing research, innovation, knowledge, and adaptive learning.

Innovation and learning. Learning from indigenous practices, incorporating new technologies, predicting unintended consequences. 

At a time when cooperation, collaboration, and democratic processes are critical to achieving environmental, economic, and, most importantly, socio-cultural equity, we still see evidence suggesting greed, power, and prejudice threaten to eclipse love, harmony, peace, and inclusion. 

Lastly, as we enter 2023, CSU is preparing materials for our annual CSU GALA. 

We have great plans for the year ahead, and we need your help to achieve our goals. Please note that our Gala will take place on March 23, in-person and virtually, at the Century Association in New York. Mark your calendar, look for the Save the Date notice and Gala Invitation, and join us as we enter our 15th year of important work and honor Emilio Ambasz, Henk Ovink, and Emila Saiz! While we remain an essentially volunteer organization, your sponsorship, membership, donations, and generous other means of support allow us to maintain our website, share our programs locally and globally, publish books and proceedings, and cover our event and communications costs. As we are more and more appreciated, we more and more appreciate what you make possible!

This is my ultimate President’s Message in the CSU NEWS. It was quite long ago that I helped, along with my three close colleagues, to found CSU in New York. We poured our hearts and minds into the CSU mission. How we have grown! Each year we extended our reach, deepened our commitment, and developed new partners. Four years ago, as the newly elected CSU President, I wrote the inaugural President’s Message for this publication and delivered it at our Inaugural CSU GALA.  Back then, we still couldn’t be sure of our ultimate trajectory, but today, with gratitude, and after four years, I can report that CSU’s mission remains intact, robust, and ever more relevant. We have not only survived the global pandemic and its subsequent economic difficulties but continue to pursue ways and means to a better life in cities around the world while meeting the challenges of ongoing climate change, ongoing inequities, global warming, the need for cleaner and more sustainable energy, emerging, global, water issues and, so sadly, continued violence against people around the world.

Reflecting upon some of the accomplishments of the past four years, our most important advance has been in attracting a cohort of new and energetic board members. By virtue of their engagement and commitment, our committees are hard at work creating new initiatives and better means of dissemination. Our Communications Committee has completed most of its work revamping our website, which we look forward to rolling out after the New Year. Our Membership Committee has worked hard and found new ways that our constituency can support the activities they so believe in. Our Advisory Board has begun to meet regularly and give meaningful input to our shared mission. We have continued to publish the proceedings of our well-received global conferences and flagship events. We have deepened and expanded our partnerships to include not only UN-Habitat and the AIA New York Chapter but Columbia University, the NGO Urban Cluster, CEL, GUD, CSWG, and many others. We have continued our engagement with the CSWG (now. meeting again in person at Perkins Eastman!). We organized successful events at WUF 9, 10, and 11 in Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, and Katowice, and we became the most recent members of the UN-Habitat Professional Forum. It has been a rewarding and gratifying term, and I assure you that I will continue to work passionately with the CSU community going forward.

Happy New Year! May it be peaceful, healthy, prosperous, resilient, hopeful, and loving,

Lance Jay Brown

Get Involved

Support Our Work

Learn more about our interdisciplinary network.


Reflections from the 2024 Gala