It is estimated that by the year 2030, around 60 per cent of population of the world will be living in urban areas. In the background of this, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include the goal of “Sustainable Cities and Communities”.
The Urban issues
The bright side of city life includes great work opportunities, better accessibility, a better quality of education, a better healthcare system and a better standard of living. However, it has its own set of predominant issues that can no longer be ignored. It is regularly grappling with the pressure of increasing population, unending pollution, an influx of diseases and a deteriorating quality of life. For example, the air pollution levels in the Indian capital, Delhi, reach unacceptable limits on a frequent basis to such an extent that schools have to be shut down temporarily and many people in the vicinity have developed respiratory diseases. And this is becoming the case for many other cities.
A lot of these problems originate from or result in massive GHG emissions. Because cities are home to numerous commercial and industrial establishments, vehicles and housing units. According to data from the United Nations, cities are responsible for 70% of global carbon emissions and this percentage is bound to rise with more and more people migrating to cities. Cities can thus be said to be a majority contributor to the horrifying climate change and should majorly contribute to its mitigation now. Because where the impact is high, responsibility should also be high.
The key to solving the above issues is urban planning through the idea of sustainability. Ideal urban planning should be on the lines of societal needs and priorities. Today the foremost issue that humans and the planet are facing is the consequences of climate change. The Industrial Revolution has worsened this problem. And a solution to tackle it is definitely sustainability.
The idea of a sustainable city is not born today. It was born in 1898 through the garden city movement. It is a utopian society concept where urban planning is intended to build a sustainable community. Later in 1991, the UNCHS (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements) defined the term ‘sustainable city’ through its Sustainable Cities Programme as “one where achievements in social, economic and physical development are made to last”. The meaning can be derived from the definition as a city which is designed keeping in mind the environmental, social and economic impacts on the existing population. It is also a step towards securing future generations from the harmful consequences of our irresponsible attitudes. It is now time to act responsibly and make up for our past mistakes. Urban planning should adopt a two-way approach. Firstly, it should aim at minimising emissions which will limit the effects of rising temperatures. And secondly, cities should be made more resilient to the inescapable effects of climate change due to the already accumulated GHGs in the atmosphere.
The new-age planning
So what should be included while planning a sustainable city? There are diversified sectors in urban planning and the adoption of suitable sector-wise measures can work wonders towards the idea of sustainability. Sustainable urban planning can significantly reduce climate disaster risks such as floods, earthquakes and others. As natural disasters are estimated only to grow with time, the infrastructure should be built in a manner that could accommodate such disasters more effectively. The unfortunate and immensely destructive earthquake in Turkey is a recent example which killed thousands of people and devastated complete infrastructure in many areas. A lesson that should be learnt is that urban planners should undergo intensive risk assessment in their area. Turkey is a highly earthquake-prone zone. If infrastructure would have been designed keeping that in mind, it would have surely lessened the damage.
Further, in the energy sector, non-renewable sources of energy should be gradually converted into renewable sources which can deeply alter CO2 emissions. Green public transportation should be powered by green electricity by replacing the age-old fossil fuel-based transportation. Cities should plan on constructing exclusive lanes for walking and cycling which will excite and encourage more and more people to opt for walking or cycling. Cities should encourage and build models for circular waste management.
Another useful device that future smart cities are aiming for is IoT (Internet-of-Things), which is a merger between physical infrastructure and technology. These devices can be useful in a wide array of industries such as waste, healthcare, transportation, water and others. For instance, smart metres were designed to be placed in buildings to automate the reduction of wasted energy. Then, sensors have been developed which monitor the content of garbage in trucks and suggest an efficient driving route.
Many cities have already begun their sustainability journey and are on the path of achieving enormous success through their innovative ideas. Some of the praiseworthy success stories are-
1. Copenhagen- It has successfully reduced its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent since 1995 under the Copenhagen Green Culture programme. It generated a lot of wind energy for energy consumption by taking advantage of high winds from the seas. It also launched an e-scooter share system as the city is home to many bikers who use bikes to travel to offices.
2. San Diego- It holds the title of having the largest IoT platform in the world, wherein it connected street lighting systems to sound and weather devices.
3. Paris, London, Melbourne, Barcelona, Milan- These cities are trying to build a system where they can bring important daily needs like education, healthcare, entertainment and other shops within a radius of 15 minutes to all residents to discourage the usage of vehicles to access everyday needs.
Building sustainable cities is definitely a challenging task. But administrators should leave no stone unturned to set up ambitious sustainable goals and thrive to achieve them. Transitioning to a smart city will only make the city stronger and future-ready to face all kinds of challenges.
You can learn more about sustainable urban planning through an accredited ESG Expert Certification from Directors’ Institute.