Creating a Better Future for Our Cities

Courtesy of Alex Steffen

Is there hope for our planet as the world population continues to explode?  What measures can cities do to reduce their resource and energy use, narrow their carbon footprints, and give our planet a fighting chance for survival? 

In a recent TED video, Journalist and sustainable activist Alex Steffen unveiled some surprisingly effective solutions to the climate change problem.  Founder of the online magazine, Steffen proposed a couple of "cool" solutions and ideas that urban planners can consider:

1) Denser cities are actually better for the environment due to the lower need for cars and their accompanying carbon emissions.  So don't complain too much if you're living in an apartment rather than a sprawling suburban home.

2) To increase the densities of our neighbourhoods, cities can build eco districts, consider infill developments to maximise land use, invest in urban retrofitting to improve uses for buildings that are already there, and to raise the density in specific spots through tentpole density.

3) Once the above is done, distance between amenities in a city is reduced and this encourages people to walk, ride bicycles or commute on public transport. This is termed a "walkshed" life, moving away from a dream home to a dream neighbourhood.  In fact, giving up one's car can reduce transportation emission as much as 90%.

4) The advent of ubiquitous communications helps to facilitate the process, with walkshed technology and access suffused into spaces.  Navigation can be crowdsourced (Google Maps etc), and technologies on smartphones can allow for "augmented urbanism" whereby pedestrians can view the different layers of information using their smartphone cameras.

5) Another radical idea is the sharing of surplus capacities, whereby products can be turned to services shared by many.  This greatly reduces the inventory of goods that we all hold which  eventually becomes trash. Even vacant spaces can be shared in the form of "popup spaces" with multiple uses day and night.

6) Buildings can also capitalise on this in their design.  For example, we can light our buildings with daylight, cool them with breezes, or heat them with Sunshine.  In fact, energy use can drop by as much as 90% here.

7) Of course, cities can also cover themselves in greenery (like Singapore).  Other than just planting lots of trees and bushes, one should also consider the following:
- if rainwater can be captured and used for various purposes
- if green infrastructure can help water to be channelled to plants and trees
- if there are natural connections to rivers for restoration
- if pollinator pathways are considered to allow bees and butterflies to come back to the cities
- and finally, if waste material can be remade into soil and compost.

Rather than mope about Earth's dying future, why not spend the next 10 minutes watching his talk below?  It will encourage you to think about what we can do as city dwellers to save this beautiful home of ours while living in a more sustainable fashion.

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