Sustainable cities are flexible and resilient

Sustainable cities are flexible and resilient

August 01, 2018

Sustainable cities are flexible and resilient

Populations' level of urbanization is growing and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set the objective of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and, of course, sustainable. There are shining examples such as Langouët, in Brittany, where 600 people live in a totally green sustainable environment. To imitate it, the World Economic Forum tells us, we have to look well ahead and plan for the future.

Today, in 2018, half the world's population lives in cities: this means about 3.5 billion people. According to United Nations estimates, by 2030 the urbanized proportion of the population will have grown to 60 percent. And this will not be a uniform process: quite the contrary, 95 percent of the increase in the coming decades will be in developing countries. 

Living in a city does not necessarily bring economic security or prosperity: at present, 828 million people live in shanty-towns, below the poverty line, and their number will tend to rise. And even though cities only occupy 3 percent of the surface of the planet, they alone account for 60-80 percent of energy consumption and 75 percent of carbon emissions. 

Best practice from Brittany

Rapid urbanization therefore implies environmental damage, but cities have always been hubs for technological development and innovation, and this will continue in the future. So the eleventh of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals sets the objective of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and, of course, sustainable. The many challenges facing urban areas, whether economic, environmental, climatic, social or demographic, are all closely interconnected. Therefore, an integrated approach is essential for successful urban development.

Rather like what we find in Langouët, in Brittany, in northern France. Here, the small community of 600 people is on the right track to becoming 100 percent green: in the last 20 years they have adopted countless projects to make their little town self-sufficient in food and energy. The town council will soon be investing 25 thousand Euro (raised by the townspeople themselves) to create a communal garden for the study of permaculture, which focuses on the most natural, low-impact farming methods: a project which is also intended to create intergenerational bonds, where the oldest inhabitants will be able to share knowledge with the youngest. 

The Brittany community also safeguards the climate and energy saving: Langouët has two whole villages where the houses are in wood and have high energy efficiency, and are all equipped with solar panels. But there is more on the way: the town is planning to build a “Triple Zero” village (zero energy, zero emissions, zero waste). And the prototype home, the BioClim House, has already been completed, and was inaugurated this spring. Each house will contain a greenhouse for growing vegetables, and will be self-sufficient in energy. So Brittany has provided a fine example of good practice, although France itself does not feature in the top ten of the most sustainable cities, promoted by the World Economic Forum and published in 2016 by the Center for Economic and Business Research, a British research institution. In this order, the top-ranked cities are Zurich, Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna, London, Frankfort, Seoul, Hamburg, Prague and Munich. Two in Asia and eight in Europe, three of them in Germany. However, France is the best-performing country in terms of food sustainability, according to the Food Sustainability Index developed by BCFN with the Economist Intelligence Unit, proving that there is culturally fertile terrain for environmental improvement initiatives.

Lessons for us all

The cities listed above all share a common factor: in their policies, especially with regard to planning, they consider the immediate needs of today without sacrificing the needs of tomorrow. And it is by analyzing these examples that we can draw up the golden rules for the cities of the future. The World Economic Forum itself has listed the eight characteristics needed to enable urban infrastructures and services to keep up with population growth and the changes we will soon be facing.

Cities must prove their ability not only to manage economic and environmental development but also to coordinate this with social change. Every city must be focused on the individual and his or her needs. This implies attention to aspects which provide personal satisfaction and mental and physical health, as well as catering for religious preferences, educational and employment needs, and life prospects in general.

A city must attract investors and thus increase its productivity by promoting growth and constantly expanding its potentials.

Everyone must be able to participate in full in every aspect of urban life. Therefore, the removal of architectural barriers is a primary aim of all the cities of the future.

Future cities must be resilient, and increase the ability of people, communities and all economic partners to adapt. Everyone needs to be able to deal with both private stress and that linked to public factors (such as economic or environmental problems). 

It may seem obvious, but only a well governed city is able to fully achieve its main purpose, which is to deliver the best future, not only for the duration of a political mandate, but in the long term.

Cities must be responsive: decisions must be taken in real time and the most effective use must be made of resources, to guarantee that problems are identified and resolved, also with the aid of the latest digital technologies.

Last but not least, they must be well organized: the city of the future must integrate every aspect of urban life and be ready to respond flexibly to change, offering solutions suited to its economy and its structural vision, not just for today but over time.

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