THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE CITIES
The subject of ‘sustainable cities’ is endlessly evolving, with people migrating to urban communities in search of comfortable living. However, as cities grow, so does their exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters, widening income gaps, worsening pollution, and aging buildings and bridges – all tell-tale signs that today’s cities are struggling to keep up with city dwellers’ growing dreams for a sustainable and prosperous future. Thus, increasing global and local commitments to make urban areas into ‘sustainable cities’ through various processes of ‘sustainable urban development’, is the way to make urbanization right.
Many corporations and investors assume that fixing cities is the purview of government, and they expect the government will act. But governments around the world are stuck—financially, politically, or both, especially in this era of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Governments cannot be relied on to single-handedly address the problems of urbanization or to conceive solutions, such as efficient electrification, sustainable inclusive spaces, smart buildings and reliable public transit, that will drive economic growth. Implementing those solutions require large amounts of capital, exceptional managerial skills, and significant alignment of interests.
The impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic are still being understood, but it does seem clear that this crisis will make a mark on cities, physically and socially, that will echo for generations.
Great changes to our urban fabric have always been a reflection of prevailing cultural and technological trends and even major crises. The cholera epidemics in the 19th century sparked the introduction of modern urban sanitation systems. Housing regulations around light and air were introduced as a measure against respiratory diseases in overcrowded slums in Europe during industrialization. The introduction of railroads had an immense impact on national urban systems, and the mass production of the car has led to cities that bleed seamlessly into sprawling suburbs, creating vast city regions. In recent years, digitalization and data have changed the way we navigate cities and how communities mobilize and advocate for change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already significantly altered urban life. The number of people moving around has dropped to unprecedentedly low levels. Work from home is the new normal – for those who can afford it, and for whom it’s even a feasible option to begin with. The fate of millions of small businesses and workers that make urban centers work is up in the air.
Even before the pandemic response, cities had become a crucible for experimentation in relation to resilience and sustainability. During the pandemic response, cities demonstrated a similar ability to rapidly react to immediate constituent needs and make confident decisions about social distancing, especially when compared to lumbering federal bureaucracies beholden to a much wider range of stakeholders.
We have been forced to slow down, to appreciate the chirping of the birds and the importance of real human relationships. We’re learning that we can survive without overconsumption of limited resources in the name of infinite growth. We’re realizing that systems that don’t effectively support stakeholder needs can be bad for some when things are going well, but are simply broken when things don’t go so well. Things that seemed weird not so long ago, like distance learning and reducing frequency of travel for work, are no longer a crazy experiment. This experience is teaching us that we can quickly and collectively change our behaviors. It is that ability to advance rapid, large-scale adaptation that we must embrace if we are to create a new normal that enables a regenerative and resilient world for this and future generations.
As the world is changing, Centenary City is adapting to that change. We are building a road map for how the city can immediately chart a future that is more sustainable and equitable, building on the thought leadership that has been produced around envisioning the world we will have as economic activity returns, and putting forward a specific, detailed course for immediate action.
We are building a city that:
- Provides potential physical distancing scenarios in public spaces, Promote the recovery of citizens’ trust in urban life, using clear communication on the rules of physical distancing.
- Contribute to making public spaces and urban life more sustainable, resilient and inclusive (build-back-better).
- Responds to the challenge of strengthening the link between public space and daily community life.
- Are inclusive and consider vulnerable groups, energize social life, strengthen the local economy and promote transport on a human scale.
- Are on a human scale, that is, we consider people as the cornerstone of the city.
As the economy gradually returns to normal, we are only beginning to understand how COVID-19 will affect how we approach urban planning. Planned for properly, density is a good thing for cities, and it will be again. But will we do more to protect the most vulnerable? Will we make cities more resilient to future crises? Will we make green and blue spaces front and center of our infrastructure investments? And will we seriously address the fact that it’s not just physically, but economically, socially and environmentally that cities are connected to their surrounding regions? We will rebuild our crucial economic and social fabric. It’s our decision to build better.
Welcome to the future.