Green Urbanism: A look at sustainable cities of the future

Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

Sustainability is the new revolution or evolution, which has taken over the entire planet. This is the revolution which everyone is endorsing and supporting, from governments to citizens. Urban areas world over are under the scourge of pollution and decreasing air quality. Even though urban areas account for only 2% of the land area on Earth, the pollution caused has led to global warming and climate change. The change towards sustainability has begun, as most people are conscious of the various types of pollution and how they can reduce their carbon footprint. Green urbanism is the need of the hour, so that growth happens, but at a lesser cost to the environment.

Common concepts of green urbanism

concepts of green urbanism

Green cities are being planned in the US, UK, India, China and many other countries. Eco friendly cities have some common concepts such as green energy in the form of solar energy, wind turbines and more. The aim of green urbanism is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, adopt building practices which are sustainable, promote green spaces, green transport, improve air quality, develop mixed use neighborhoods, etc. Let’s take a detailed look:

Greening transport

Greening transport

One of the ideas of green urbanism is to improve transport systems, including promoting walkability and cycling. As of now, cities have very poor planning to enable people to walk or cycle around town. There are very few areas in cities where people can walk or cycle without there being the danger of them getting hit by some other vehicle. Walking and cycling not only improves the air quality but also leads to better health in humans, which reduces expensive health bills and reduces congestion on the roads.

Green urbanism seeks to improve the quality of life of people. For example, there would lower instances of road rage, if people walk about peacefully or cycle. Emotional health and peace would increase.

Many cities have already started charging a congestion charging, which puts a greater cost of petrol and diesel for personal travel. This results in encouraging people to use sustainable transportation.

Another feature of green transport is to upgrade the public transport in existing and developing urban areas. Citizens must have a choice to use public transport which will take them to their destinations seamlessly and on time. Only when public transport is well-connected, metro stations and subways are connected to buses, trains and other modes of transport can more people use public transport regularly.

Subways and trains should be designed in a way that people can take their cycles/bikes on them to help them commute the next leg of their journey.

Another of the green urbanism concepts is making plans for hubs which provide services locally. This will reduce the requirement for commuting long distances for essential needs like groceries, medicines, eatables, pubs and restaurants. People can walk down to work and do all their shopping in one central hub.

The vehicles of the future will most likely be electric vehicles.  For companies and organizations to buy and use EVs, such as electric bikes, scooters, cars, buses and trucks, there has to be ample charging points. These EVs could be the best option for short journeys.

Some governments have implemented strict measures to combat pollution arising from transport. Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, has chopped off in half one of the major 20 lane highways to 10 for cars. The other 10 lanes are used as an express lane or surface subway for public transport which transports people from one end of the city to another in extra quick time.

Other cities in Argentina are trying to stop cars completely in certain places. In Madrid, the authorities have banned non-residents from driving in the city’s center. Only local, low emission cars driven by locals are permitted in that area.

Bicycles will be the most popular and desirable transport mode in urban areas in future cities, maybe even enforced by law. This would reduce emissions as well as congestion in the city. More bicycles can be parked in the limited parking areas in cities and towns.

Passivhaus construction would be the norm

remote building energy monitoring methods

Another common aspect of green urbanization is the retrofitting of old buildings to make them greener. New buildings would have more eco features, such as meeting LEED standards, having wireless and remote building energy monitoring methods, better waste disposal and water recycling systems. Residents will be able to control their energy usage when it is monitored in real time.

Densification of cities will take place. Dense cities have been found to have lesser impact on the environment per unit. Future urban areas would have mixed land use, such as retail being in tandem with light industry, interspersed with office, workshop spaces and services. This would create jobs locally, add to the social diversity and so on.

Green buildings will also have features to protect from the consequences of extreme weather, such as flooding, extreme heat and cold and strong storms.

Green energy modes

Solar energyIt goes without saying that the energy sources would be sustainable and widely used, in community schemes and for personal use. There would be combined energy sources. Solar energy will receive a widespread use due to the development of dye-sensitive PV coating on the cladding of buildings. Right now, it is being developed by Tata Steel in Swansea and is expected to be available in  just a few years. This is one of the concepts of green urbanization which might reduce fossil fuel use to a great extent, as these innovative panels need not face the sun to work, and do not take up extra space anywhere.

Waste would be used as an energy source. Power would be generated by the anaerobic digestion of green and organic waste which would produce natural gas. This gas would be injected into the mains, used in the local energy network within residential complexes, and the digestate could be used as fertilizer for the plants in the complex.

Urban food production

Urban food production

Food has to be provided for the teeming millions in the urban areas. Green urbanization entails the production of food by city dwellers, in their apartments, rooftops, balconies, allotments, school gardens, community supported vegetable gardens, vertical gardens and more.

Instead of concrete jungle, green urbanization in the future has been visualized as concrete structures which make or have space to include natural environment. This would be implemented to improve air quality, biodiversity and also to decrease ‘heat island’ effect. The trees and plants would be edible – herbs, nuts, fruits, brassicas, etc. At least a little bit of the food problem would be solved by residents and communities planting trees and other plants, without using chemicals fertilizers.

People would be encouraged to eat food produced locally, as food which is produced thousands of miles away will increase emissions while being transported. Eating local would support local economy too, which is one of the aspects of sustainability.

Vertical Gardens

Vertical Gardens

Vertical can already be seen in urban and suburban areas, on office buildings, workspaces, homes and public spaces like airports. These gardens which need very little space impart many benefits to the surroundings around them. They clean the air, improve the curb value and look stunning and fascinating. They are a refuge for insects and birds in the concrete jungle. The future of green urbanism lies in creating these havens within the city using the concrete structures themselves.

For example, Italian firm Stegano Boeri Architetti have devised an idea to create a magnificent 54 m high ‘Foret Blanche’ in the French capital Paris. It would be planted with flowers, shrubs and trees. Another project of this firm is to create a similar development in China, called the ‘Forest city’. All the buildings of the city, from homes, schools, hospitals and offices would have vertical gardens. It would be a ‘pollution eating’ city, according to CNN.

Another variation of the vertical gardens’ concept of green urbanization are the Edible Bus Stop in London, where the bus stops would be covered in edible flowers and herbs.

In New Jersey, US, Aerofarms is a company which is planning a 78,000 sq ft, growing approx 12 stories of vegetable greens like kale, bok choy and more. Hydroponic as well as aeroponic systems would be used to release the exact amount of water and nutrients in the soil. Elsewhere, a restaurant in Berlin called Good Bank grows the salad served to its customers within the walls of the dining hall.

Many cultures in the world have traditionally been eating certain insects for survival and as a rich source of protein. In the future, to feed the huge amount of people, we would need alternative sources of food. This has already begun, with companies like Exo and Aspire Food Group, which are incorporating crickets into protein bars. These bars are being sold at outlets such as Whole Foods.

Tech and green savvy police departments

drones are helping usGreen urbanization will be evident in all aspects of city life. Technology and eco friendly features will go hand in hand to change the way work is done. Police departments too would undergo modifications, such as using drones for surveillance, track stolen vehicles and chase fleeing criminals. The drones would be able to identify gunfire sources, increasing public safety and the lives of policemen. Besides, they would reduce the need for police cars, cutting down on fossil fuel use and pollution caused by their vehicles. Some police departments in the US have started using electric bikes which are silent, efficient and eco-friendly.

A look at some green cities of the future:

Green urbanization is not something which will happen in the future – it is already happening. These cities are showing the world how it can be done.

Masdar, Abu Dhabi, UAE

irrigation system

The name of the city stands for ‘The Source’. It will be built on the oil rich lands in Abu Dhabi, and will be built at the cost of a 22 billion dollars. It is touted to be the first carbon-neutral city-space in the world. The city’s urban development has planned to take advantage of hydrogen, wind and solar energy. Wastewater, after recycling, would be recycled back into the city’s irrigation system. Electric personal light train system will replace personal cars.

Sherford, England

Organic farmingLocated in South Devon, Sherford is the environmental project of England’s Prince Charles. It will house 12,000 people and will be ready by 2020. Sherford  will probably be the greenest community in Britain. It will have a dedicated cricket field, organic farm and bowling green, apart from tons of other green features.

Though the look will be that of an English town, the houses will be made out of sustainable materials with cutting edge building designs. The materials will be sourced locally, within 50 mile radius. The water and waste will be recycled.

In this example of green urbanization,  the workplaces and homes will have green roofs. Most of the buildings will be fitted with solar energy systems. Commercial buildings will have rooftop gardens. Plans are there for wind turbines. Almost half of the electricity required in Sherford will come from sustainable, renewable sources. Besides, the walkable layout in the urban area will have retail shops, residences and industries close together, to reduce car use. Some areas of Sherford will ban cars. And all the new homeowners will be gifted with a bicycle to start their eco friendly transportation.

Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

This artificial island is being transformed as a green urban community. The deadline for completion of this green urbanization project is 2020. It is being planned as a testing ground for environmentally urban concepts. Some green features include LEED certified buildings, elimination/reduction of storm- water runoff, artificial wetlands which will be called Living Machines. The transit systems will favor low emission vehicles. And there will be an organic farm within walking distance of the city’s center. Sustainable energy sources will provide the residents with clean energy.

Urban forestry, green roofs, stormwater ponds, Passivhaus buildings, biophilic design, living walls, bioswales, meadows and parks will be part of the urban areas in future. Green urbanization will be the norm for new developments and older cities and towns will be retrofitted with green features in order to reduce the chances of a global disaster caused by global warming.

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