Building codes, urban transport and waste management must be ‘reimagined’ if the world is to put urbanization on a more environmentally sustainable and socially just path.
For Martina Otto, head of the Cities Unit at UN Environment, sustainable urbanization needs a ‘planning revolution’ that results in strategically structured, compact cities with mixed-use neighbourhoods and buildings and an emphasis on integrated urban systems. In her vision of the future, cities would be full of green roofs and walls as well as biodiversity corridors. Decentralized urban energy systems powered by renewables would complement grids.
Steps are being taken in this direction. For instance, cities around the world have made pledges or joined a variety of initiatives to significantly cut building emissions and promote net-zero carbon buildings, revolutionize urban transport by banning fossil fuel vehicles and improving public transport networks, and innovate waste management to encourage recycling.
But according to Otto, the planning capacity to achieve this is still lacking in many places. Developing countries are not properly equipped to keep pace with the speed of urbanization, and cities worldwide do not have the necessary data – or capacity to analyze it – to properly plan for the future.
“We cannot afford to get the infrastructure investments, which will be made over the next 15 years, wrong,” said Otto. “Areas key for addressing climate and air quality, as well as citizens’ well-being, are energy systems, mobility and buildings, all requiring long-term investments that lock us in for decades to come— we need to make sure that they lock us in on a sustainable urban development path.”
Image credit: Bernd Thaller via Flickr