Here are three ways cities are leading the fight against climate change

Climate protesters in Berlin in June 2017. Image: Getty.

The global population is predicted to rise to 10bn by 2050, and the majority of those people will live in cities. Given that cities already account for 75 per cent of the world’s energy use and 76 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, there’s a growing focus on how urban planning and design can reduce emissions and help humanity to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In November, representatives of the world’s global powers gathered in Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change – more pithily known as COP 23.

Working together to affect large-scale change has been the key message of the conference. There was a groundswell of urban innovation on show, largely driven by the mayors and governors of cities and regions, as well as industry leaders and universities interested in promoting opportunities for greener growth.

These bodies have formed alliances and networks to develop ideas and strategies around smart mobility, renewable energy, living infrastructure and sustainable urban design. This was the good news story of COP 23. The conference has given nation states a unique opportunity to work more closely with cities, to plan for climate change.

So, in my role as an urban and regional planner (in practice and academia) I spent some time in Bonn finding out about the exciting ways that cities are leading the fight against climate change.

1. Low-carbon precincts

One aim is for current and future cities to be powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity. This can be achieved with a combination of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or hydro, with battery storage and microgrids integrating with national grids as needed.

Location, location, location. Image: Marcin Wichary/Flickr/creative commons.

Cities will have integrated transport systems with electric-powered light rail and personal vehicles, while promoting active travel such as walking and cycling. Designing for integrated green precincts will bring greater benefits for local communities than one green building at a time. For example, community recycling and solar programs are more feasible on a larger precinct scale.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome. Finding appropriate locations for renewable energy farms that are also acceptable to the local people requires careful consideration of design guidelines and community engagement in the decision-making process.

The ICLEI 100% Renewable Cities Network is a prime example of the work being done to achieve this, by connecting cities to share knowledge and support each other. The network includes cities such as Canberra, the Australian capital, which is on track to achieve its target of 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020.

2. Living infrastructure

Cities across the world are increasingly incorporating living infrastructure, to deliver social, environmental and economic services to urban communities. This is done by integrating trees, shrubs, grass and open spaces (green infrastructure); rainscapes and waterways (blue infrastructure); and soils, surface and man-made structures (grey infrastructure) into the fabric of the city.

In China’s “sponge cities”, rooftop gardens help to capture storm water and regulate the temperature of the building. Copenhagen’s cloudburst plan rethinks the way water flows through the city by installing channels above and beneath the surface to prevent flooding. And water sensitive urban design is being put to use in drier cities, to make efficient use of everything from rainwater to waste water.

Living infrastructure also offers nature-based solutions for coastal cities under increasing threat from rising sea levels and more extreme coastal storms. For instance, replanting mangroves and coastal vegetation provides softer barriers between land and sea, while restoring natural waterways by removing dams and man-made canal systems can reduce the urban heat island effect and mitigate its negative impacts on human health.


3. Urban networks

Urban networks make use of digital connectivity and the internet of things to help cities far and wide work toward global goals: think everything from integrated green transport systems, to big data for improving resource efficiency, to innovative platforms for exchanging knowledge and practices between cities, towns and villages.

Organisations such as the C40, ICLEI and the Global Covenant of Mayors are already helping to coordinate action between city leaders – and at COP 23 the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders adopted the Bonn Fiji Commitment to deliver the Paris Agreement at all levels. Built environment professionals from around the world are also joining the groundswell of urban action, launching the Planners for Climate Action group at COP 23.

It’s also critical that the people making decisions in cities can connect with researchers who are gathering evidence in this area. Two global examples I am actively involved with are the Urban Climate Change Research Network led by Columbia University, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

Making it happen

Sustainable solutions such as these need green financing mechanisms and support from national governments if they are to deliver real outcomes on the ground. At COP 23, the World Bank unveiled a new programme designed to provide cities with a vehicle to raise necessary funding and investment, in partnership with private enterprise.

In one of the conference’s key finance sessions, the former leader of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, stressed that green finance will be the key to urban change, with a current industry target of $1trn, and more in green bonds by 2020.

Nation states now have a responsibility to enable this wave of urban innovation to move forward. Despite the growing power of city and regional governments, national urban policies still play a central role in carrying out international agendas such as the New Urban Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

The ConversationWhile a few states may choose to ignore international agreements, this groundswell of collaborative action across businesses, governments and communities is sending a strong message that national governments would be wise to heed. Embracing and investing in urban transformation that improves the health of people and the planet is clearly a winning strategy.

Barbara Norman, Chair of Urban & Regional Planning and Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures, University of Canberra, Visiting Professor, University of Warwick.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Five ways in which the rest of the world can avoid the homelessness crisis plaguing the US

Housing for all. Image: Nicobobinus/Flickr/creative commons.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, where the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, yet it is dwarfed by the scale of the issue in the US. More than 500,000 homeless were found across the US during just one night, compared to the UK’s 2017 count of 4,751. Changes in the definition of homelessness and flawed methodologies suggest that the true number for the US could be anywhere from 2.5 to 10.2 times greater.

Millions more live in overcrowded or slum housing, forced to choose between the damage that poor conditions do to their physical and mental health, and the street. All of the US’s housing issues – from foreclosures to evictions to poor conditions – hit communities of colour the hardest.

This is due to a legacy of discrimination, which continues to undercut any commitment to safe and decent housing for all residents, whether in the private or public sector. In my recent book, City of Segregation, I explain how the long, violent history of creating spaces for the white and privileged classes is embedded in a number of practices, which continue in US cities to this day.

Exporting inequality

As private developers and investors seek out urban land in major cities around the world to secure their fortunes, real estate patterns and practices developed within the US are increasingly being observed elsewhere.

In cities as diverse as London, Sydney and Durban, community groups which have been working for decades to improve their neighbourhoods languish with little public or private resource. Meanwhile, developers create spaces for foreign investors and new residents, who anticipate certain protections and privileges such as greater security, high quality amenities and neighbours with similar interests and backgrounds.

This is a driving force behind rising evictions and the criminalisation of homelessness, alongside gated communities, hostile architecture, “broken windows” policing with its focus on prosecuting activities such as graffiti or jaywalking and the growing privatisation of public spaces through regeneration.

But there is still time for other countries to choose a different path. The UK, in particular, can build on the legacies of the post-war political consensus that all residents should have access to quality housing, and its acknowledgement of institutional racism and some history of government anti-racist campaigning.

Both legacies should be improved, but a renewed commitment to a programme of housing and anti-racism are central to increasing equality, prosperity and well-being for all. Based on my research, I’ve come up with five steps which the UK and countries like it can follow, to ensure that future development reduces – rather than drives – homelessness and inequality.


1. Build social housing

Unlike the US, the UK acknowledges a right to a home, and within living memory provided it for a huge swathe of British society. Social housing – whether in the form of traditional council flats, cooperatives or community land trusts – provides a variety of housing types and keeps rents from rising too far beyond wages.

When social housing is widely available, it makes a huge difference to people who – for one reason or another, and often through no fault of their own – become homeless. With social housing to fall back on, homelessness is a temporary condition which can be safely resolved. Without it, homelessness can become a life-destroying downwards spiral.

2. Preserve and expand community assets

Severe segregation in the US stripped entire communities of access to quality food, jobs, education, green spaces, services, banks and loans. Poverty is endemic, and can easily tip into homelessness. While far from perfect, the UK’s post-war commitment to universal provision of services, such as education and health care, and building social housing across all neighbourhoods underpinned a surge in upward mobility.

This achievement should be salvaged from the damage done by Right To Buy – a policy which sold off social housing without replacing it – and austerity, which has prompted a sell-off of public assets and land, as well as the closure of childrens’ services, libraries and community centres.

3. Decommodify housing

A market geared towards building apartment blocks for the portfolios of investors who will never live in them cannot produce the kind of housing and neighbourhoods which residents need, much less at a price they can afford.

While London has been badly affected for some time, this trend is now spreading to other areas of the UK and Europe. Local and national governments must act to prevent global demand for housing as investments from driving prices beyond the reach of those who need real homes.

4. Build communities, not walls

Gates, bars, armed security and homeowner restrictions are all ugly traits of private housing developed within the US context of desperate inequality and racism. The UK has a long and vibrant tradition of community development, creating a supportive built environment and social infrastructure of schools, libraries and other municipal services for residents.

Community assets. Image: Helen K/Flickr/creative commons.

This kind of development, and the social mobility and growing equality it fosters, safeguards public health and safety – not big walls, barbed wire and security guards. The private rented sector in the UK should be regulated to bring it more in line with Europe, where tenants prosper with security of tenure and strong regulation of rents and rent increases.

5. Raise your voice

Those who are bearing the brunt of our current housing crisis must be at the centre of efforts to change it. From tenants’ associations and renters’ unions, to campaign groups such as Justice for Grenfell, it’s vital to support those voices advocating fairer housing rights.

This also means rejecting austerity’s constant cuts to public services, funding social support for physical and mental health and ensuring that homes are safe, decent and secure, to create a safety net for those who are working to improve their communities.

The Conversation

Andrea Gibbons, Researcher in Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.