11 ways to future proof our cities
We live in a highly urbanized world.
In 1950 around 30 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, that figure has risen to 54 percent. By 2050, more than 75 percent or 6.1 billion people will live in cities. By 2100, that figure is projected to jump to 84 percent. This urban migration will happen mostly in fast developing countries.
This trend presents a great challenge to existing cities which must take proactive steps now to future-proof themselves.
What exactly is future-proofing?
Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing strategies to minimize the negative impact and stresses of future events such as floods, unaffordable housing, terrorist attacks and so on. Future-proofing is used in the medical industry, in electronics, industrial design, and, more recently, in designs for climate change.
Cities can act to future-proof themselves to reap economic and social benefits, as well as environmental ones. This can include integrated urban planning, sustainable transportation systems, water and waste management, and new sources of energy.
To respond to these challenges, an integrated multidisciplinary approach is needed. This will require tapping the skills of various experts from different disciplines, such as architects, planners, engineers, climate scientists, ecologists, economists and entrepreneurs who will work together to create resilient cities.
Here are some future-proofing strategies:
1 Promote wellness
Cities must be designed to create a lifestyle that promotes wellness over and above economic factors. We need safer streets, a cleaner environment, and secure places for working and living.
- Build on appropriate sites
Cities must consider disaster risk assessment when developing communities and building sites to prevent or minimize danger to the health and well-being of people.
- Go for integrated development
Cities must adopt an integrated approach to development, which they did in Freiburg, the “Solar Capital of Europe.”
Freiburg is a German city in southwest Germany’s Black Forest area whose city planning department created a compact community where people live close together. Freiburg’s main goal was to create a green city that balances working and living areas which are integrated with green spaces and neighborhood centers for social interaction, cultural events and other related activities.
One thing that struck me was the energy index of 15 Kwhr/sqm/year of homes in Freiburg.
- Develop green open spaces
Cities of the future must invest in an integrated system of green open spaces and public spaces which help improve liveability, support vibrant city life, promote community life and decrease the heat island effect. Cities of the future will have plenty of urban farming.
- Build a sustainable transport system
Providing fast, cheap and clean public transport early in a city’s development is a major factor in the future proofing of cities. An efficient transport system promotes good health and saves energy.
- Provide for the elderly
With a growing aging population due to declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy, the aged population is currently at its highest level. Future cities must consider that people worldwide prefer to stay at home as they get older. Cities must be upgraded and regenerated to be walkable for all ages, especially the elderly.
In Singapore, there are now residential condominiums that offer units designed for three generations of families living side by side.
- Conserve water
Cities must realize that water is a valuable resource that must be used efficiently. Collecting, reusing, and returning water back to the environment is one way of doing this. Many ancient civilizations have disappeared when water sources were depleted due to the mishandling of such a precious resource.
Cities can learn from South Korea’s experience when Cheonggyechan stream reopened after having been previously covered by a highway. Thanks to the project, the average temperature of the area has dropped by 3.6 degrees in comparison to other parts of Seoul. It also helped revive the traditional pedestrian route of the city by connecting the stream with the old resource areas.
- Establish green standards
Cities must be constantly monitored using building technology standards that are regularly updated to cover all typologies of building types and neighborhood developments. The goal is to continue to create and improve the quality of life in the cities.
- Develop resilience
An automated warning system in the built infrastructure protects the city from events such as earthquakes. To protect a city from obsolescence, the city must create new infrastructure while upgrading the existing stock of decaying and obsolete infrastructure.
- Level up to a globalized, digitized economy
Developers can help in future proofing cities by producing projects that facilitate the creativity, innovation, and sustainable communities that are now in demand. The world’s most future-proofed hubs –San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York and London– have top technology centers with vibrant tech and creative sectors. They have a large concentration of start-up companies with fast expanding technology and global connectivity.
- Democratize city planning
The democratic city gives the citizens a say on how their city and culture evolves. So as not to restrict development, a well selected group is needed to mediate between a bottom-top and top-bottom approach to the design and development of city space.
The author is the principal architect of A.P de Jesus & Associates-Green Architecture, and Vice-Chairman and COO of the Philippine Green Building Initiative. For comments or inquiries, email [email protected]
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