Thursday, May 11, 2023
The future of cities must be at the forefront of political, investment, and business agendas on climate emergency, in addition to an appendix with a wide range of public-private partnerships enabling urban rethinking and sustainable initiatives to walk hand in hand with cutting-edge technology in the redesign of urban spaces without carbon footprints. A challenge that requires a Copernican conceptual shift in how cities are conceived, i.e., a full-fledged urban planning paradigm shift.
The post-Covid business cycle has still reserved forces to stimulate the reconversion of cities. To the point of being able to foster an unparalleled spirit of reform—with a pronounced innovative character—where the ambition to improve its residents' quality of life is combined with the creation of a climate of peaceful coexistence between business and sustainability.
But, above all, urban transformation processes have set in motion new habits of social mobility, constant upgrades of their digital services, and a strong drive for sustainable lifestyles.
The data are undeniable and agree on the challenge for cities to become green laboratories. By 2050, when the planet's energy neutrality should be announced, they will be home to almost 70% of the global population and more than 90% of economic activity, and their mega-cities, those with more than 10 million inhabitants, will have increased their population density by 35%. The United Nations predicts this will be mostly in developing markets.
The preference for life in capital cities, where two-thirds of energy flows are consumed and three-quarters of greenhouse gases are generated, is forcing them to accelerate their preparations against climate change. Fortunately, their desire for change is supported by their high vulnerability to global warming. It is no coincidence that 35% of their residents, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) warns, already face unaffordable housing, nine out of ten live in sanitary standards lower than those recommended by the World Trade Organization, and face exorbitant traffic congestion costs that, in the USA alone resulted in a bill in excess of $300 billion in 2017.
Jonathan Woetzel, director of the McKinsey Global Institute, lists several essential elements of any sustainable urban agenda. Essentially, the existence of precise economic plans for their development zones—future and existing ones—and projects for the modernization of their infrastructures over several decades, with Artificial Intelligence calculation methods and other high-tech tools that evaluate the costs and size of assets such as water, electricity, and waste management. Based on the size and characteristics of their territorial areas, including their population density or the census of productive agents operating in their jurisdictional area.
In his opinion, changes must be based on innovation. In fact, simultaneously with the creation of their green laboratories, they must conceive technological incubators and business hubs to gain competitiveness and offer services that meet the desires and priorities of their inhabitants, their companies, their communities, and certify their sustainable challenges.
More livable and environmentally friendly green cities must first be configured as Smart Cities and have digital resources that allow them to prevent traffic jams, provide their residents with health, academic, and cultural services in line with their demands, consolidate advances in mobility that raise their standards of living, provide and promote an extensive catalog of collective means of transport powered by renewable energies, and adapt their housing stock to a reasonable and controlled expansion of their geographical boundaries.
Perhaps the best way to show that climate urgency has taken hold in major cities is the fact that in 2022, a year marked by geopolitical, economic and stock market instability, the three major economic superpowers —the U.S., Europe and China— mobilized $1.1 trillion in environmental technology investments.
This urban transformative rush is the basis for prediction that has led the International Energy Agency (IEA) to quadruple the sustainability business by the end of this decade to $5 trillion per year and estimate that it will be worth $150 trillion by 2050. With a reduction of 16 gigatons of CO2 emissions.
"We need the administration to work closer with citizens to rebuild virtually all of the infrastructure in use if we want to eliminate fossil fuels and return to pre-industrial era CO2 levels," explain entrepreneurial voices such as Peter Reinhardt, who sold his software company in 2020 and holds an executive position at Charm Industrial, created in 2018 and specializing in biomass fuels, solar and wind technology, and battery innovation. "All of this will still require tectonic shifts of the highest order," he warned.
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