Humanity’s future depends on the development of sustainable and resilient cities  

Cities, yes, cities. To people in developing countries, the word city translates into high levels of pollution, social stress and…a dream.  Cities in developing countries around the world are facing exponential growth e.g. Shanghai and Beijing, and with growth comes challenge. This rapid growth coupled with the increased number of city migrants leaves cities with the colossal task of providing shelter, food, water, energy and jobs to the new dwellers. But how can we do this and not continue to exploit our natural resources, and mitigate and adapt to climate change?

La Paz, Bolivia

Natural resources scarcity and climate change are the drivers leading the urban century movement. Today more people live in cities than ever before.  By 2050, it is forecasted that 75% of the world’s population will be living in cities across the world. ‘Megacities’ – more than ten million inhabitants – are on the rise with 36 already in existence and more are on the urban race. In just three decades, we have completely redesigned the world we live in. The days of urban sprawling are over (thank god!). We cannot afford to make the same mistake again; we can’t continue to destroy our planet’s underlying operating system.

La Paz (Another view)

Why cities? Well for one, cities can provide a perimeter boundary to excessive urban sprawling as they are locked by place or geographic location. Cities allow for densely populated areas to emerge therefore efficiently improving the supply chain of goods and services to its population. In addition, cities lay the pathway for innovation & technology to meet and evolve at a faster rate than ever before. Cities are an essential tool to mitigate climate change. But today, cities contribute 70% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. It then makes sense to build smarter, efficient and resilient cities that use natural resources with respect and takes spatial space as a priority in the design. In our western cities spatial space went out the window once we started building cities around the automobile.

Collaboration between cities is key for the future development of sustainable and resilient cities. Each city has its own unique set problems and barriers. These barriers need to be identify at the local level and doing so will allow us to suggest pathways to sustainability transitions. One tool that cities throughout the world are experimenting with is called Urban Living Labs (ULL). ULL are sites in cities (e.g. streets, buildings or districts) used to design, test and learn from social and technical innovation in real time and in integrated ways. These sites are used as experiments with the end goal of shaking up and transform the urban system. A recent example happened in New York City where Times Square avenues were closed to traffic and instead sitting tables were set. The designers of this experiment were looking to analyze the citizen’s behaviors, and guess what? The tables were full and people enjoyed sitting outside. Experiments like this allow local governments to develop new concepts to improve the citizens’ quality of life while fighting climate change.

In the end, depending on how we develop and manage our urban infrastructure during the next 3 decades, cities could become either a force of environmental destruction or a primary source of ecological rejuvenation [WWF, 2010].

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