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Urban Development

Cooler buildings and lower bills in summer thanks to green walls and roofs

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A 15% cut in the energy bill with a 40% reduction of the direct solar radiation in dwellings and a lower indoor temperature by up to 3 degrees thanks to plants grown on roofs, balconies and external walls. These are part of the outcomes of the Italian pilot project ENEA is conducting at its research center near Rome.

“We developed a green wall based on an extensive roof-garden system and a self-supporting structure positioned at 50cm from the wall of the School of Energies building, where we conduct training courses”, Carlo Alberto Campiotti at the Department Unit for Energy Efficiency, said. “Successively – Campiotti went on – we’ve begun to study the interactions among green coverings, energy flows, the microclimate and indoor comfort, diversifying the species”.

The “plant system” installed on walls, roofs and balconies, has proved capable of creating an actual insulating pad enveloping houses and condos; in this way vegetation can mitigate temperature peaks during summer, capturing most of solar energy, which doesn’t directly hit the building surface, dissipating through evapotranspiration of plants a large amount of thermal energy (up to 1 liter of water daily per square meter) which would otherwise be absorbed by the building and released as heat inside the house.

“In summer this vegetation system allows to reduce up to 15% of energy for cooling- Campiotti pointed out- while in winter savings for heating reach 10% thanks to the chimney effect between the wall and the vegetable blanket; in practice, a natural ventilation system removing moisture from walls and reducing the thermal dispersion of the building”. Each plant has its own type of leaf given by color, thickness, shape, arrangement on the stems and biological cycle, which determines the amount of solar radiation it captures instead of hitting the walls of the building.

The parameter defining the energy and bio-agronomic traits of plants is called green factor (kv) and it varies from a minum of 0 to a maximum of 1. In practice, if kv is 1, it means the green mantle doesn’t exert any shielding towards solar radiation and, in summer conditions, the temperature of the external wall is superior to both that of the air and that inside the building; but if the value is zero, it means that vegetation exerts a total shield and the temperature of the wall is equal to that of the air.

“The Pandorea Jasminoides variegata – Germina Giagnacovo at the Energy Efficiency and Productive Activities Department explained – is a climbing evergreen with an excellent ability of neutralizing solar radiation, as Lonicera hall prolific and Partenocissus quinquefolia do, although slightly less effectively”.

“In addition to an improved thermal and acoustic insulation and living comfort for individual dwellings, these solutions also have advantages for the entire urban context: green roofs and walls, in fact, contribute considerably to the reduction of the “heat island”, which can cause a peak of the electrical load during summer, between 3 and 8% for each additional degree of temperature.

Furthermore, less use of air conditioning means less greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, methane, fluorinated gas and water vapor. Installing green roofs, balconies and walls also means mitigating the effects of the so called “rain bombs” – roofs and balconies account in fact for 20% of the total surface of cities and covering them with plants would allow to absorb up to 50% of rainwater, regulating its flow into the city’s water system- in addition to improving air quality, since 25 m2 of plant surface generate oxygen for one person, while 1m2 eliminates 0.2 kg of particulate matter in the air.

“For many sectors in distress in our economy, including the building sector, new prospects for recovering are opening up- Campiotti continued- also thanks to the introduction of the green bonus with the last Budget Law, a new fiscal incentive which allows to recover 36% of the costs, up to 5thousand euro incurred for re-greening single dwellings and parts of condos, an intervention which could increase the value of the building itself”.

Green coverings

“Extensive, mildly intensive and intensive are the three types of green coverings we’re experimenting with at ENEA- Susanna Mariani at the Department Unit for Energy Efficiency, explained. We are particularly interested in the experimental use of autochthonous varieties, such as climbers and evergreens, but also rare wild species such as Echium vulgare, also known as viperina grass, much loved by bees, which can guarantee maximum protection of biodiversity, adaptability to climatic variability and resistance to summer droughts “.

In detail, the extensive coverings are characterized by varieties of plants that are easy to grow (of the genus ‘sedum’, a set of various species of succulents, and perennials) that need little maintenance and rescue irrigation (mosquito-proof), since they can store a large amount of water. This type of roofing is particularly suitable for walls and slopes, since the installation reaches a weight of about 100 kg / m2. Intensive coverings, on the other hand, foresees the inclusion of trees, require high maintenance and increased irrigation, involving the installation of a weight on the building ranging from 400 to 1000 kg / m2, while the mild intensive is positioned halfway between the other two varieties of coverings, by type of plants and maintenance, weighing between 200 and 400 kg / m2

The courses

In september, at the School of Energies of the ENEA Casaccia Research center, the Energy Efficiency Department will organize a course on the cultivation of plants best suited for green coverings. The course is free of charge and is addressed to agronomists, land surveyors, architects, biologists and natural sciences graduates.

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Urban Development

Sustainable development hinges on fate of world’s cities

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The future of sustainable development will hinge on the fate of cities, officials told a special meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on Thursday, stressing that the more than half of the world’s population currently live in urban environments, a number likely to rise to nearly 70 per cent by 2050.

“The actions we take now must lead us to…a new social integration based on the principles of prosperity, transformation, adaptation, equity and respect for human rights,” said Martha Delgado, President of the UN-Habitat Assembly.

Highlighting urbanization as one of today’s great megatrends, she joined others in calling for resilient, sustainable “smart cities” that are more inclusively governed and better prepared to navigate future shocks and crises.

New Urban Agenda

Thursday’s special meeting on Sustainable Urbanization and the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda will complement a similar High-Level meeting of the General Assembly, on 28 April.

Both sessions are designed to explore how the UN system can better support countries in implementing the New Urban Agenda – a landmark plan for the world’s urban spaces, which was adopted in 2016 at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

The Agenda put forward standards and commitments for the planning, construction, development, management and improvement of urban areas.

It also articulated a shared vision for cities as just, safe, healthy, accessible and affordable places where all inhabitants are able to live without discrimination.

COVID-19 disparities

Opening Thursday’s meeting, ECOSOC President Collen Vixen Kelapile urged participants to examine urban issues through the lens of inequality, especially given the stark disparities illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sustainable development will hinge on how we manage urbanization,” he said, adding that current discussions should be framed in the context of responding to COVID-19 response and the climate crisis.

Noting that 1.2 billion people in the global South currently live in informal settlements and slums, Mr. Kelapile reminded that they have long struggled to prevent disease transmissions, now including COVID-19.

Meanwhile, in the global North, dependence on welfare, where available, increased manifold during the pandemic and many people entered the ranks of the homeless. 

In response, cities have deployed creative actions and provided services in underserved areas, while new urban models are beginning to pay more attention to pedestrians and mixed land uses.

Reclamation, inclusivity, greening

UN-Habitat chief Maimunah Mohd Sharif agreed that the world’s cities have been absorbing much of COVID’ s socioeconomic impact.

However, that has often resulted in closer cooperation between national and local governments, which, in turn, has led to greater reclamation, greening and inclusive use of public space. 

Spotlighting a fresh opportunity to build on those partnerships, she said: “We can provide basic services in a more equitable manner, reduce commuting through tele-work and reduce carbon emissions by prudent use of energy.”

Upgrading slums and addressing the housing affordability crisis remain the highest priorities for countries.

Meanwhile, as cities have been forced to augment emergency social spending during the pandemic, she warned that Agenda implementation continues to be impeded by inadequate financing, further crippled by dramatic expenditure reductions.

COVID-19 demonstrated that real value comes from providing affordable service, rather than extracting profit, she added.

Accelerating progress

“Achieving the New Urban Agenda’s goals will accelerate our progress on human welfare and security globally,” said General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid.

He joined other speakers in emphasizing that, when properly managed, cities are among humanity’s most sustainable living environments.

On the climate front, adhering to the Agenda will help keep alive the goal of limiting planetary warming to 1.5°C.

Cities ‘connect the dots’

Echoing those points, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the Agenda also includes measures to secure land tenure, promote affordable housing, enhance mobility and provide services that are accessible to all.

“Cities can spearhead innovations to bridge the inequalities gaps, deliver climate action and ensure a green and inclusive COVID-19 recovery,” she said.

The deputy UN chief added that urban spaces “connect the dots” on many of today’s global challenges.

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Urban Development

Cities that Plan for Age-Readiness can Reap Lasting Social and Economic Benefits

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As the world gets older and cities expand to accommodate more people, focusing on making urban infrastructure and services ‘age-ready’ — conducive for older persons and younger ones alike — can have universal social and economic benefits, a new World Bank report shows.

“Silver Hues: Building Age-Ready Cities” builds on the reality that for the first time in history, there are more persons aged 65 years or over than there are children under five. In fact, by 2050, one in six people will be 65 or older. At the same time, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on older persons globally, while the world contends with the climate crisis and continued conflict and violence across the world, even as more older persons move to cities and towns to live close to younger family members or have access to essential services like healthcare or public transportation.
This makes it crucial for policymakers to proactively think about and invest intentionally in planning and designing cities for an age-ready future. The report provides a roadmap on how focusing on six key areas – universal design, housing solutions, multigenerational spaces, physical mobility, technology, and efficient spatial forms – can help policymakers design adaptive, productive, and inclusive age-ready cities.

“An age-ready city is a city for all. Age-readiness is not just about older persons. It has universal benefits and is conducive to better living for everyone. That is why we feel it is critical for countries – those that have a large aging population and those that will see aging in the coming years – to think about how their cities and towns can be planned and designed for an age-ready future,” said Sameh Wahba, Global Director for the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice.

Silver Hues: Building Age-Ready Cities offers key reasons for why this can be one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for countries:

The age-readiness of cities can have benefits for all age groups and cater to distinct needs that are age-agnostic – for example, open spaces like parks and gardens and community amenities like libraries are not just for older persons – everyone benefits from these services.

About 15 percent of the global population has disabilities but over 46 percent of persons over the age of 60 have one or more disabilities. Investing in accessible infrastructure and signage, for example, helps older persons lead dignified, empowered lives without needing constant assistance.

There is some evidence that the benefits of proactively designing and maintaining accessible infrastructure outweigh the costs, especially for cities whose financial resources are scarce.

Age-readiness is also smart economics – older persons represent a large, attractive market for goods, services and investments, so building healthcare, technology and leisure solutions that work not just for older persons, but for everyone regardless of age, disability, gender, and income, will benefit the community at large.

There are immeasurable social and cultural benefits for cities to be age-ready. Older persons pass on invaluable social and cultural knowledge, behaviors, and emotional and psychological counsel to younger generations, in addition to how often they pass on their financial savings.

Making cities work for older persons as well as they do for younger age groups helps countries nurture strong constituencies and underscore their commitment to inclusion in its truest sense and caring for diverse population groups.

The report suggests that cities can reach their goal to be age-ready by building a long-term vision, investing in data and analysis, consulting with a diverse group of stakeholders on proposed measures, designing practical and lasting measures while articulating the role of the public and private sectors, of communities, academia, civil society, and external institutions, instating ways to implement policy actions and evaluating these actions for their effectiveness.

Aging is a predictable reality – so planning for it and ensuring that urban infrastructure and services work across age groups is not just inclusive but is also economically and socially beneficial for cities. Walkable cities, accessible public transit options, safe, good housing and innovative technological services and solutions are not just for older people — they provide universal benefits. The report posits that age-readiness should be an essential part of countries’ plans as they look to a post-COVID-19 future.

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Urban Development

How cities can save on commuting time, double job access

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A new report released today by the World Economic Forum pinpoints how cities can use mobility options to improve social equity and economic growth.

The white paper, How Mobility Shapes Inclusion and Sustainable Growth, identifies over 40 potential solutions to improve inclusivity in mobility, with simulations of over 40 million daily trips, global benchmarking and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders.

Prepared in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group and University of St Gallen, the study identifies transportation ‘pain points’ in three cities – Beijing, Berlin and Chicago. Using a six-step transportation equity methodology, the white paper analyses the mobility challenges each city faces, their affected communities and how transportation is driving, or failing to drive, economic growth and well-being. It also offers recommendations that result in real gains.

This methodology fills a void in current transportation analysis and can serve as the centrepiece of a strategy for developing mobility-based social inclusion programmes and policies in the identified cities and elsewhere.

Beijing, People’s Republic of China

This high-density megacity can become nearly 30% more efficient, saving commuters about five days-worth of travel time per year:

  • Pain point: Very high demand has overwhelmed Beijing’s public transit network, with queuing times to get into some train stations consistently over 15 minutes, leading many residents to choose driving as an alternative.
  • Solution: A digital platform for metro reservations to flatten peak-hour demand and reduce commute time for rush hours.
  • Benefit: This equates to a 29% average reduction in travel time for the service users in the modelling for Beijing, an average reduction of 115 hours waiting a year per user.

Berlin, Germany

The report shows how this compact, middleweight city is raising $295 million more per year for inclusive mobility projects:

  • Pain point: As central districts have become gentrified, populations have been pushed further from the city centre, where public transport is more limited and fragmented. Berliners in these peripheral areas take about 27% more time commuting than central Berliners.
  • Solution: Creating differentiated service levels for public transit increases usage and brings in additional revenue that can be used to improve public mobility systems for the underserved.
  • Benefit: A differentiated service level on public transit increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the public transport operator – an equivalent of $295 million – that can be used to improve access for underserved populations.

Chicago, USA

A car-centric city such as Chicago can give low-income neighbourhoods access to hundreds of thousands of more jobs:

  • Pain point: Low-income households in Chicago spend up to 35% of their income on transportation, due to the high cost of vehicle ownership and reliance on cars for mobility. Average work commute time on public transit for individuals in low-income areas is also nearly 15 minutes longer when compared to residents in some high-income areas.
  • Solution: Introducing on-demand shuttles to cover the first and last mile of transport can greatly increase access for underserved communities.
  • Benefit: The solution would increase the share of public transit usage in Chicago by 26% and would broaden the number of jobs reachable in 40 minutes – the rough ceiling for a desirable commuting time – by 90%; this would result in improved access to 224,000 jobs from neighbourhoods that did not have access before.

The white paper also finds that in order to foster social inclusion through mobility, both supply and demand must be considered. Purely increasing mobility infrastructure does not always yield the desired results.

For example, adding 10 new subway cars may do little to increase ridership among people with disabilities even if they do not have other transportation options, mainly because getting to a subway station is a challenge in and of itself. Other solutions such as an on-demand mobility service for the disabled community, such as Hyundai Motor Groups’s EnableLA universal mobility service, may be the more appropriate option.

Next Steps for Policymakers

Access to transportation infrastructure is essential to social development and economic growth, and improving the mobility situation for underserved population groups needs to be one of the top priorities for decision-makers.

Since every city has its own mobility and socioeconomic challenges, data collection processes and the current understanding of rider demand must be re-examined in order to gather important information about mobility challenges affecting minorities.

Understanding the baseline conditions of the mobility conditions of each urban environment is crucial in effectively determining the appropriate solutions for individual cities.

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