SpongeBob in China? Creating Sustainable Cities

With half of the world’s population living in cities, Michael and Kimberly consider the wide array of challenges urban planners face as they attempt to get greener and adapt to climate change.

Episode 8


Would you rather live in London or Gothenburg? For more excitement and a lush 174 sq. ft. of green space per person (and to skip Duolingo Swedish lessons), you might choose London, but for future sustainable security, Gothenburg might be the better bet. Unless hard-pressed, you’re far less likely to Lagos, Nigeria, despite its 6.5% annual growth rate and less than 10 square feet of green space per person.

The appeal of cities puts more pressure on urban planners with increased urbanization and outdated—or in the case of developing countries—practically non-existent infrastructure. Whether it’s traffic jams or strained water supplies, cities need to devise sustainable management methods.

While governments recognize that sustainable development necessarily includes promoting human security and environmental protections, it’s a tough balancing act, defined by the economic bottom line. Facing rapid urbanization and the need for green spaces, Global South countries struggle not only to develop, but in a sustainable manner. And what’s more, perhaps the biggest hurdle they face is developing public-private partnerships to attract investments that alleviate the need for continued government subsidies.

Key Topics

  • What, exactly, qualifies a city as sustainable?

  • Why Michael argues the UN is too ambitious in Sustainable Development Goal #11, “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”

  • Michael and Kimberly butt heads over the IESE Business School’s “Top 10 Smart & Sustainable Cities” ranking system

  • How smart can a city be when a government decides to create it from the ground up-the amazing feat of Cyberjaya and desert cities

  • The ambitious Net-Zero, Green Roofs, Million Trees, and 100% Climate-Proof sustainable city initiatives of London, Toronto, NYC, and Rotterdam

  • China’s daunting undertaking of Integrated Urban Water Management, a.k.a. Sponge City Program (should have gone with SpongeBob City Program, for certain!)

Recommended Resources

Seeking shade in Amman, Jordan, which also needs to increase its green spaces to manage flooding and alleviate its chronic water shortages