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CANNES-Mayors and ministers from around the globe gathered here yesterday morning to discuss the future of their metro areas. Not surprisingly, much of the cities’ economic prospects centered on environmental sustainability.

In a session with a title that asked the provocative question: “Investment Returns From Environmental Quality?” leaders from two major world cities answered with a passionate, “Yes.”

“You cannot be a world city without being environmentally responsible,” said Singapore minister for national development Mah Bow Tan. “The importance of balanced development is clear, but it is easier said than done.” For that reason, he stated, Singapore has adopted a planned-growth program that takes into account such issues as transportation and reclaiming land for green space. Included in that plan is what amounts to a charge for people hoping to buy a car. That government-imposed charge can come near “to the price of the car.” By such stringent measures, the city hopes to encourage use of mass transportation.

Less radical in his approach but no less passionate was Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who stated that environmental concerns cannot be separated from economic issues, or from the other problems that plague any major city. “All of the issues are integrated,” he told the crowd of some 200 attendees. The problem of accommodating an aging population and affordable housing both speak not only to environmentally building construction but also to the need for mass transportation. Not only does the city offer incentives for construction that plans for a 20% decrease in energy consumption, but the city is also projecting some $20 billion over the next four years to upgrade and promote use of mass transit.

“All mayors know that 70% of greenhouse gasses come from transportation,” he said. For that reason, the use of public transportation is key, “especially for an aging population.”

Increased costs of environmentally-aware construction might scare away certain skittish investors. “This takes courage,” Tremblay said. “In the short term you may lose an investor. But you will be ensuring the long-term economic viability of your city.”

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