Columbia University’s Elliott Sclar has been named one of 2018’s Responsible 100 by the media company City and State NY. Sclar is a professor emeritus of urban planning and director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia’s Earth Institute.
According to City and State NY, the Responsible 100 “honors New York’s most outstanding responsible executives, thought leaders, visionaries and influencers who are setting new standards of excellence, dedication and leadership in improving their communities and making transformative change.”
Sclar’s work focuses on issues of socially equitable and environmentally sustainable urban development. “We’re not going to solve any of the world’s problems if we don’t come to grips with the urban nature of life on this planet,” he says. “The clock is ticking and we’ve really got to figure out how to make urban life sustainable and equitable, or the planet’s going to fall apart.”
Over the last 50 years as an academic, Sclar’s published work on urban transport has often been pioneering. He has long contended that planners focused too much concern on mobility and not enough on access — for example by encouraging the excessive use of cars at the expense of other, more equitable, forms of public transportation, or land use patterns that encourage walkability. He contends that these alternatives would open up far more opportunities for many more people and make the planet more environmentally sustainable.
Sclar co-coordinated the task force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, to help guide the implementation of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. The task force—one of 10 set up by the UN Millennium Project—was charged with improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. The resulting report, named A Home in the City, is available online. In 2007, the International Society for Urban Health awarded him its “Humanitarian Award” in recognition of this work, which they called “an outstanding contribution to improving the health of urban populations.”
Sclar was also founding board chair of one of the nation’s first exclusively socially responsible investment portfolio managers.
In 2015, Lynn Economic Opportunity gave him its Visionary for Thriving Communities award “for lifelong outstanding work in community economic development planning.”
An expert on privatization, Sclar won two major academic prizes for his book, You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For: The Economics of Privatization. This continues to be an active area of research for him. The biggest challenge to achieving sustainable and equitable cities, he says, is figuring out how to strike the right balance between using market forces and the public sector to accomplish public goals — for example, improved population health and uncongested cities. Neither governments nor businesses can go it alone, he says, so “how do we get public and private sectors working together? How do we finance these things in ways that efficiently use public funds?”
In addition, he’s currently working on a new textbook about zoning. Sclar says for too long zoning has been treated as a technical and regulatory subject and not in terms of the important social function it also serves. “The institution of zoning is one of few democratically accessible places where communities can talk about what they want to look like and be,” he says. The book is due out in 2019.
Professor Sclar and the other Responsible 100 honorees will be celebrated in an awards luncheon in December.