How sustainable cities can promote urban resilience

Environmental pollution, scarcity of resources and social inequality - many challenges of the present as well as climate change are concentrated in cities - sustainable cities counteract this

Sustainable urban development, green city detail

Author: Ilka Bröskamp

Urban living space is in great demand. According to an UN report more than half of the world's population currently live in urban areas and this value is expected to rise to around 68% by 2050. The consequences of this pronounced urbanization are a lack of space, rising rental prices, increasing air pollution from industry and automobile traffic as well as social inequality.

In addition, the effects of climate change on our cities are becoming increasingly visible. Heat waves, flooding, drought and forest fires are the noticeable consequences. Densely populated urban living spaces thus bring with them a multitude of challenges that must be met with sustainable, inclusive and resilient urban development. But what exactly does sustainable urban planning look like?

What is sustainable urban development?

Sustainable cities pursue the goal of taking into account the interests and needs of all residents and at the same time is characterized by the responsible use of available resources. In addition, cities should increasingly prepare themselves for climate disasters in order to meet them with resilience and to minimize the effects.

Considering living space, work, leisure, environment as well as mobility, it is important to include the needs of all generations. At its core, sustainable urban development is therefore defined by the endeavor urban habitat to be designed in such a way that it does justice to both people and the environment.

Concrete features of sustainable cities:

  1. Climate resilient cities
  2. Inclusive cities
  3. Sustainable mobility
  4. Connected cities

1. Measures for climate-resilient urban development

According to the UN, 1.3 million people died as a result of climate-related and geophysical disasters between 1998 and 2017, causing economic losses of US $ 2.9 trillion. According to a McKinsey report more than 90% of all urban areas are in coastal regions. By 2050, more than 800 million city dwellers could be affected by the consequences of rising sea levels. In addition, 1.6 billion people would be at risk of extreme heat waves (up from 200 million today) and around 650 million would be affected by water scarcity by then.

Sustainable urban development against flooding

Risk of flooding in urban coastal regions

To combat climate change, according to McKinsey, cities of the future should take two types of measures: measures to systematically promote the resilience or adaptability of cities and measures to prevent climate disasters such as floods, extreme heat, drought and forest fires. The report "How cities can adapt to climate change" calls for these measures to be taken into account, especially in urban planning. As part of this, adequate financing and the provision of liquid funds in the event of disasters should also be ensured.

Early warning systems can also accelerate the implementation of the measures and protocols to promote learning effects. The use of nature-based solutions is particularly emphasized. This includes, for example, planting trees against heat waves or the management of river basins. Certain population groups such as children, the elderly, low-income communities, minorities, people with disabilities and women are at higher risk and should be protected separately.

2. Inclusive cities and sustainable infrastructures

Cities are not only characterized by growth, but above all by their diversity. Sustainable cities must therefore offer space and solutions for all different social groups. That also includes intergenerational design and seeing aging as an opportunity.

Indefinitely rising rents in most cities are currently ensuring that low-income households can barely afford to live in the city. As a result, they are increasingly being pushed out of the city or have to move to cheaper residential areas. This creates two social classes, defined by income and wealth, with completely different interests and needs.

Sustainable cities create living space and infrastructures that are attractive and equally accessible to both groups. The constant construction of affordable social housing is just as important as the interests of investors who see the real estate market as an investment. Access to cultural, sports and leisure activities is also available to everyone in a sustainable city.

Source & Copyright by Initiative Morgenstadt Frauenhofer IAO / LAVA

3. Making mobility, traffic and transport sustainable

Increasing CO2 pollution and streets clogged by traffic jams should be a thing of the past in cities with a sustainable orientation. A well-developed network of public transport is just the beginning. As part of the e-mobility, the overarching use of renewable energies is of particular importance. Sharing models can also reduce the number of cars on the road.

Bicycle and pedestrian-friendly districts primarily counteract environmental pollution and promote a more sustainable lifestyle. The prioritization of bikes and e-bikes by building their own lanes or bridges, as in Copenhagen, make road traffic more environmentally friendly and create additional incentives to move without the car.

Sustainable urban development La Paz cable car

La Paz / Bolivia cable car network

The public network can also be strengthened in a similar way. Exclusive bus lanes that bypass traffic jams and thus transport people faster from one place to another make the usage of public transport much more attractive. In La Paz, for example, cable cars and trams up to 30 km long connect hilly, often hard-to-reach, low-income communities with the city center. Sustainable cities also ensure significantly more inclusion with regard to road traffic.

4. Interconnected cities with a future in the smart city

Intelligent parking spaces, irrigation systems, lighting, trash cans and payment systems are technology-based systems that make everyday life easier for residents and make cities more sustainable. In smart cities, lanterns only turn on when people are walking down the street. Parking spaces recognize cars driving away and guide those looking for a parking space to the vacant spaces. Green spaces are watered with the appropriate amount of water when the soil is too dry. Trash cans are equipped with sensors that report as soon as the container is full. Mobile payment methods also give people without a bank account or address the opportunity to use services (e.g. electricity or water) to which they would otherwise have no access.

Sustainable cities as an opportunity for the future

The advantages of sustainable urban development are clearly visible: It offers opportunities and ways to counteract environmental degradation, scarcity of resources and social inequality. In order to be able to cope with future developments and the challenges associated with them, sustainable urban concepts must increasingly prevail.

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