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Sustainable Cities and Homelessness


Sustainable Cities, Sustainability Program  

Author: Vic Passion


Professor Rob Barlow, of the Hult International Business School, discussed sustainable cities in this presentation. The topic hits close to home for me because I moved back to the Bay Area in 2022, after six years in Germany. I’m sure you’ve heard of the analogy of boiling a frog. Living here for the last six years is the equivalent of boiling the frog in a pot of water that gets hotter gradually. I, on the other hand, am like the frog who has been dropped into boiling water. The changes are impossible to miss.


My family and I have some favorite hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants that we like to visit in San Francisco. Before we moved away, there was clear evidence of poverty in the neighborhood of these little eateries. We visited the area again recently, and there were tents on the sidewalk and even a full-size bed occupied by a woman on the side of the road. It was shocking and upsetting.




Professor Barlow explained that, according to a study by Zillow, when people have to spend more than one third of their income on housing, homelessness starts to spike. A cascading effect takes place, in which high-income people live in middle-income housing, middle-income people live in low-income housing, and low-income people go… where? They fall into homelessness.


While mental health and drug and alcohol use contribute to homelessness, the main driver of homelessness is, rather, a lack of affordable housing. That fact might fly in the face of our assumptions. Once people become homeless, drug and alcohol dependency and mental health issues accelerate.


The solution to these complex issues is, of course, complex. NIMBYism (not in my backyard), lobbying, lack of prioritized funding, politicization and corruption contribute to homelessness. Public policy and laws should be constructed to fight these forces. Part of the solution is also our attitudes. He said something I really liked, namely that empty space that could be filled with housing should bother us, in the same way that plastic water bottles bother us.


We need to communicate the reality of homelessness: unhoused people are not different from housed people, and they are not a blight in our neighborhoods. 


It can be easy to feel hopeless when confronted with this issue. The good news is that young people are dialed into social issues. The solution is to mobilize the young, the old, the housed and the unhoused to fight for laws, funding, prioritization and education that pushes this issue in the right direction. This topic is so meaty. I encourage you to watch the recording of Professor Barlow’s presentation to come to your own conclusions.


Professor Barlow’s goal was to convince us of two things in his presentation on the topic of sustainable cities, namely that:

  • “The first step to finding lasting solutions to our sustainability challenges lies in a genuine commitment to the following basic idea on which we share agreement: [Sustainability is]… meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
  • “As business professionals, we have an important role to play in cultivating that idea and helping to ensure it plays an important role in the future of business leadership.”


Mission accomplished.



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