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Cities Aim to Play Greater Role In Fight to Preserve Environment

CITIES are increasingly viewed as key players in the global effort to clean up the environment.As people centers - including more than half the world's population by the year 2000 - cities both cause much of the pollution and experience the worst of the results. "National governments can't really tackle the problem without involving cities," says Jean Dure, mayor of Montreal. "As centers of knowledge and creativity with the capacity to mobilize people ... cities also have the potential to develop solutions." Mayor Dure was in New York this week to announce an October summit meeting in Montreal of leaders of 27 of the world's largest cities. New York City Mayor David Dinkins will attend as the US representative. The mayoral group, which was organized in 1985 by Tokyo's top elected leader and has met twice since, will focus its discussions on the environment.

Code of conduct The hope is to develop a code of conduct for major cities that balances the need for economic development against the need to protect nonrenewable resources for future residents. Leaders of the Montreal summit expect to share their conclusions with nations attending the June 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil. A variety of UN agencies and donor groups over the last year also have been applying steady pressure on UNCED to listen to urban views. "There's been a very concerted effort to get the urban agenda on the UNCED agenda," says Carl Bartone, a senior environmental specialist with the World Bank's urban division. "We've been trying to push the idea very energetically that solutions to environmental problems - at least those where cities are part of the problem - are not going to be achieved without local government involvement." Other signs that cities are gaining new importance in the fight to preserve the environment include the founding last fall of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, soon to be based in Toronto. ICLEI will provide technical and financial help to 11 cities in the US, Canada, and Europe involved in a new project aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 60 percent over 50 years. Each city will choose its own strategy. Toronto, for instance, intends to expand mass transit and may use water from Lake Ontario to generate cool air through its downtown steam heat system. Miami may expand its rapid rail system and change land-use rules so that people can live nearer their jobs. Much of the focus is on transportation and energy use but programs also include tree planting and improved waste management, says Ron Benicoff, director of outreach programs in the climate change division of the US Environmental Protection Agency, one of project's funders. "Within EPA there's a growing recognition that we have to do a lot more than write regulations," says Mr. Benicoff. "We need to develop cooperative programs with state and local governments and industry, to figure out together what are the most efficient mechanisms to deal with the problems."

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Cities: think long-term The job for cities, says Mayor Dure, is to think much more carefully about the long-term effect of urban development. Their choices, he says, can have a revolutionary impact. In weighing whether to spend more on new roads for cars or reserve lanes for buses on existing highways, for instance, he would choose the latter. Cars would then encounter increasing traffic jams, he says, as buses moved faster, encouraging drivers to make the switch. "People will have to change their lifestyles," he says. Similarly, Mayor Dure says he thinks a hike in the price of gas in the US would both encourage development of alternate fuels and save a nonrenewable resource. "Fuel here is much too cheap," he says. Mayor Dure says he thinks cities are often ahead of their national governments in commitment to such efforts as expanded public transit, recycling, and integrated waste-management policies. Yet his compliment contains a prod: "Many of our citizens are moving faster on these issues than a lot of my urban colleagues - I can tell you that."