6 innovative schemes helping cities to become more sustainable
Cities are increasingly delivering fresh ideas to cut carbon emissions and make urban areas more liveable
For many of today’s cities grappling with the early effects of climate change and under pressure to make progress towards meeting ambitious net zero targets, it’s time to think boldly and creatively about what needs to change.
From redesigning planning norms to re-greening the heart of cities and tackling emissions from real estate head-on, there’s been a flurry of new initiatives and policies aiming to make urban areas more sustainable and resilient in both the shorter- and the longer-term.
“Cities are now responding to the need to decarbonize the built environment but it’s a complex, long-term issue with no quick fixes,” says Jeremy Kelly, Lead Director, Global Cities Research at JLL.
“It’s going to take a mixture of different initiatives and partnerships. We’re seeing some great ideas from the frontrunners that other cities can learn from and adapt but we’re really only at the start of what needs to happen if we’re truly going to create a more sustainable future.”
So, what are some of the innovative ideas with big potential?
Paris – ‘15-minute city’
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is championing the concept of a ‘15-minute city’, where local facilities for work, health, education and leisure are no more than 15 minutes away either on foot or by bike.
For local communities, it improves liveability by cutting back on commuting times. And fewer cars on the road means less congestion, lower carbon emissions and better air quality.
To transform the city into a collection of neighbourhoods, Paris is working on Europe’s largest infrastructure project. The Grand Paris Express project, which will deliver 68 new metro stations and 4 new metro lines, will not only connect the suburbs to central Paris but will crucially enable travel between the suburbs. These stations will be at the heart of each new neighbourhood, with homes built around to optimize mobility.
Other cities have had similar ideas, with ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ springing up in Melbourne and Portland, Oregon.
Shenzhen – Gross Ecosystem Product
Shenzhen has started using Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP) as its accounting system to measure the city’s development and drive policy. This new measure of sustainable development will be used as an alternative to the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
While GDP ignores damage to the environment, GEP puts a value on all the goods and services for human welfare and sustainable economic and social development within the city; for example, it includes indicators on water resources, air and water purification. It therefore incentivizes officials to improve, rather than ignore, the environment.
Oslo – Zero-Emission Construction Sites
With construction responsible for around 11 percent of global carbon emissions, zero emission building sites can have a significant impact on decarbonization goals, not to mention air and noise pollution levels. The Norwegian capital is a leader in this area, aiming for all municipal construction sites to be zero emission by 2025 and all construction work to be zero emission by 2030.
As part of Oslo’s Climate Budget for 2019, construction equipment is moving from fossil fuels to electric power. The city is currently investing in measures from incentive schemes zero carbon heavy-duty vehicles and machinery to developing the necessary electricity infrastructure, as well as funding a pilot zero emissions construction site to demonstrate feasibility.
Miami – Heat Officer
As temperatures soar across the world and urban areas particularly suffer because of the high concentration of people and buildings, Miami is the first city to appoint a chief heat officer. Jane Gilbert, who was also Miami’s first chief resilience officer in 2016, is tasked with planting new trees to help provide shade and reduce temperatures, as well as creating better infrastructure for heat emergencies and supporting local communities.
The idea is already catching on; Athens in Greece and Freetown in Sierra Leone have since followed suit. Meanwhile Los Angeles, which is planting trees across its most vulnerable neighbourhoods to keep temperatures down, appointed its first City Forest Officer in 2019.
New York - Green Corridors
The idea of accessible, extensive public green corridors, popularised by New York’s High Line and adopted in cities from Atlanta and Boston to Barcelona, continues to evolve.
New York is now planning a ‘Manhattan Waterfront Greenway’, a 32.5-mile loop connecting more than 1,000 acres of green spaces – a total area larger than Central Park - circling the entire island.
Cities like Hamburg and Singapore have also launched large-scale schemes. The GrünesNetzHamburg (Green Network Hamburg) extends to the surrounding countryside while Singapore’s Park Connector Network makes it possible to move around the city state on footpaths and cycle paths.
Other cities are boosting their green coverage in slightly different ways. Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy, for example, aims to increase canopy cover from 22 percent to 40 percent by 2040. Its Urban Forest Fund also provides financial grants for new greening projects, including tree planting, biodiversity projects, vertical greening and the Melbourne Skyfarm.
Amsterdam – Circular Economy
Amsterdam is aiming to be one of the first circular cities by 2050, adopting circular economy principles to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use for as long as possible and regenerate nature.
Its circular strategy is based on the doughnut economic model which proposes that nobody should be left in the hole in the middle, but at the same time communities must live within the ecological boundaries on the outside of the doughnut. The doughnut shape left in-between those two circles is the sweet spot.
In real estate, 50 percent of all building refurbishment and maintenance should follow circular construction principles by 2025. Bio-based materials, such as timber, will be critical – and 20 percent of all new homes will be constructed from these from 2025. Amsterdam’s also going one step further with a new neighbourhood made entirely from wood. The Mandela Buurt development will include 700 new apartments and is due to start construction in 2025.