Document Type


Publication Title

Tulane Environmental Law Journal



Publication Date



Harlem, New York City, Havana, Cuba, sustainable development


Consider two remarkable places: Harlem, New York and Old Havana, Cuba. These are two different neighborhoods, cities, countries, political systems, economies, and cultures. Yet these two neighborhoods are bound together by a common phenomenon unlimited by geography or differences in political and economic systems. The global prosperity of the last two decades has created historic opportunities to usher in development and revitalization efforts in neglected urban areas across the world! Governments, along with the private sector, have moved capital back to cities or neighborhoods that became endangered from years of disinvestment, lack of economic opportunities, and inadequate access to essential public services. This movement of capital back to the city in many cases has fueled a remarkable period of growth, bringing in new businesses, new industry, and increasing the value of housing. However, urban revitalization efforts almost always come with unavoidable costs and tradeoffs, as growth ushers in changes in the economic, social, and cultural status quo. This Article compares the strikingly similar redevelopment trajectories in Harlem and Havana and the interplay of environmental, economic, and social values in their development decisions and activities. These values are embodied in the concept of "sustainable development," now a mainstay in the current lexicon of international and national development principles. If sustainable development means anything, it means the integration and balancing of the "three Es"- Economy, Ecology, and Equity-into development decisions and actions.' Sustainability promises a development calculus that balances these three values, essentially asking us not to sacrifice any one of the Es.' As the President's Council on Sustainable Development articulates: "economic growth, environmental protection and social equity should be interdependent, mutually reinforcing goals." By balancing and integrating the need for economic growth with the need for environmental preservation/conservation, and inter- and intragenerational equity in decision making, sustainability cautions for moderation in the pace and scale of redevelopment efforts. This Article explores whether the concept of "sustainable development" provides a useful framework for guiding development activities in cities across the globe. Using Harlem and Havana as case studies to analyze this question, this Article illustrates how the three "E" values in sustainable development are fundamentally in tension with one another. These tensions are difficult to resolve, this Article argues, without making significant trade-offs between these values, forcing them to compete with each other in development decision making. This is not at all surprising given that the popularity of the "sustainability" concept stems from its "malleability, as it combines elements that appeal to both environmental and business interests."' This malleability has arguably worked to moderate the worst impulses of unrestrained profit-seeking growth. Yet, on the other hand, it is this very malleability that renders sustainable development a questionable planning and development tool. This Article concludes with a recommendation to build a value of accountability into the principle of sustainable development. Accountability means that trade-offs between the three E values are consistent with the democratic, deliberative processes within the communities that must live with the impact of those trade-offs.

Included in

Land Use Law Commons