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Urban Development

Cities can fight climate change and improve lives by finding new ways to be cool

MD Staff

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Life has always been hotter in cities. Concrete soaking up and radiating sunlight, and the concentration of people, cars and machinery crank up the temperatures, making them on average 5–9°C warmer than rural areas.

This has led to fast growth of power-hungry air conditioning units delivering cooling. The problem is that this cooling has been pumping out excess heat and greenhouse gas emissions, which warm the planet and so lead to an ever-greater need for cooling.

Cities will still have to keep their citizens cool. We have already witnessed growing heat waves, both in frequency and amplitude. They severely affect the functioning and health of cities and their citizens. Rising temperatures contribute to heat-related deaths, reduced workforce productivity—estimated at 2.2 per cent of working hours lost worldwide by 2030—and poor air quality, which disproportionately affects the poorest communities. Rising temperatures mean that 1.6 billion people could face average summer temperature highs of 35°C by 2050, approximately 1.4 billion more people than today.

We need better ways to keep cool.

“About 40 per cent of energy consumed by buildings worldwide is used for space heating and cooling,” said Martina Otto, who heads the secretariat of the Global Alliance on Buildings and Construction at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Space cooling is amongst the fastest-growing building end uses, and with higher temperature, more urbanites and rising standards of living, we will need a multiplicity of solutions to provide thermal comfort and protect human health.”

Active cooling needs to be cleaner and more efficient while we design buildings for more passive cooling and include nature-based solutions in buildings and cities’ public space. And we need to shift from the notion of cooling down space to providing thermal comfort.

Cities already starting to deliver

There are global and local efforts to address the energy efficiency and climate impact of the cooling sector, in particular through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. These actions can make a huge difference, but cities can do a lot more.

The Cool Coalition—a global network connecting over 80 partners—is working towards a rapid global transition to efficient and climate-friendly cooling. It will work with C40 cities and its network of more than 90 members to share expertise and integrate urban cooling into their climate action plans, as well as with the GlobalABC, who issued a call: “Buildings—keeping cool, naturally”.

By implementing clean cooling strategies, cities can not only reduce the demand for cooling but align their policies with other areas of importance, such as air quality, public health and energy resilience.

Cities are working on innovative solutions, and C40 cities are delving deeper into them as they meet in Copenhagen this week for the C40 World Mayors Summit. These range from scaling up district cooling initiatives to cool roofs and green roofs and facades, to urban landscaping with nature-based solutions such as green corridors, a well-articulated offer of green public spaces.

“Cities have a critical role to play in delivering efficient, clean cooling for their citizens” said David Aitken, Director, Innovation at Cool Coalition partner the Carbon Trust. “In their role as a facilitator, planning authority, asset owner and financier, cities have many levers to pull that can influence the way cooling is produced and consumed. Taking action on cooling at the local level will also leverage co-benefits relating to health and wellbeing, air quality and living standards.”  

There are examples from all over the world.

Following the 2010 heatwave, Ahmedabad in India developed a plan for cool roofs, awareness raising and cooling stations. Since 2013, the city has avoided an estimated 1,100 deaths per year. It has acted as a blueprint for 30 cities in India, who have now released or are developing their own plan.

As part of their commitment to the Paris Climate agreement, Melbourne, Australia is banking on nature-based solutions. The goal is to plant 3,000 trees—which provide shade, reflect sunlight and release moisture into the air through their leaves—every year and cool the city by 4°C.

Copenhagen, Denmark, uses seawater in its district cooling system, reducing CO₂ emissions by up to 30,000 tonnes per year. The goal is to expand district cooling further and contribute to Copenhagen’s target of becoming CO2-neutral by 2025. Other initiatives in Copenhagen include green roofs for municipal buildings and a smart city energy lab that demonstrates how electricity and heating, energy-efficient buildings and electric transport can be integrated into an optimized system.

Cool roofs and new building materials on the rise

Cool roofs are gaining traction globally. Through its CoolRoofs Initiative, New York City has already painted more than 5 million square feet of its roofs with a reflective coating. Meanwhile, the Global Cool Cities Alliance has launched the Million Cool Roofs Challenge, a US$2 million global competition to rapidly scale up the deployment of highly solar-reflective roofs in developing countries.

“The concept of cool roofs is simple, but implementation faces barriers in the global south,” said Kurt Shickman, Executive Director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance. “We need to raise awareness of the opportunity. The availability of coatings and other cool roof solutions is often limited or non-existent. There is a lack of financing and investment. The Million Cool Roofs Challenge seeks to address each of these challenges.”

Green roofs and facades provide thermal insulation and help clean the air by trapping particulate matter. They offer the opportunity for urban agriculture and onsite wastewater treatment, adding further benefits. Bio-based building materials, which have a lower climate impact than concrete and store less heat, also offer real potential to improve the building envelope. While concrete has a high thermal mass, it’s extremely energy intensive to produce: 8 to 10 per cent of the world’s CO₂ emissions come from cement. “Alternatives such as bio-based materials are increasingly being used and can help reduce environmental impacts, while also providing the desired thermal mass,” said Otto. “For example, we have engaged in a partnership with Yale University to explore the use of such alternatives, from certified timber to bamboo and use of agricultural waste products such as coco fibre.”

It is clear that cities have a wide menu of options to choose from. They can walk the talk through public procurement decisions regarding their own buildings, set performance standards, use their planning authority and enter into partnerships with the private sector. By taking advantage of these options, cities can turn down the heat in the city and help put the world on track for a cooler future.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Global forum on cities highlights need for sustainable development

MD Staff

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If cities like Delhi, Lagos, Sao Paolo and Tokyo seem populated today, think what they’ll be like by 2050. The United Nations predicts that by then, 2.5 billion more people will be living in urban centres, making two out of every three people city dwellers.

Cities are hubs for cultural, scientific and economic development, but they can also be stark reminders of the environmental and socio-economic challenges we face. Today, cities are responsible for some 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy and resources. As the human population continues to grow and the planet faces unprecedented threats from climate change, there is a critical need for sustainable urban planning.

The tenth World Urban Forum (WUF)—the foremost international gathering on sustainable urbanization established by the United Nations—focused on the intersection of culture and innovation to address emerging urban challenges.

“Environment is a golden thread connecting culture and innovation, the theme of this year’s World Urban Forum,” said Martina Otto, head of the Cities Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Just as addressing climate change must become part of the conservation strategies for our heritage buildings, so must we find inspiration in traditions, be it traditional building techniques or urban form to build the cities of the future. Through innovation, we can create the pathways to make our cities zero carbon, resource efficient and resilient.”

A number of UNEP personnel attended the WUF to showcase ongoing work and projects. One example was the launch of what’s being called the world’s largest real-time air quality databank.

Another project featured was the Law and Climate Change toolkit.

UNEP and UN-Habitat have a longstanding cooperation in the area of sustainable urbanization, implemented through different projects—the latest being the Greener Cities Partnership. The joint mission reflects UN-Habitat’s take on compact, integrated and connected cities and UNEP’s work on cities as a force to achieve a decarbonizing and eco-decoupling economy.

Separately, UNEP supports cities across the world in addressing climate impacts and integrating the environment into their long-term urban planning through three priority areas: economy, nature-based adaptation, and climate and pollution action.

Given the resource surge linked to urban development, cities have a primary role in moving from a take-make-dispose economy to a circular model, where materials and products are kept in use for as long as possible at their highest value. Using their jurisdiction, cities can embed circularity principles into their planning decisions and policies.

Similarly, urban development and particularly sprawl are a driver for habitat loss, impacting the very ecosystems, city residents depend on. Nature-based solutions such as mangroves can be a cost-effective solution to dealing with floods and coastal erosion while also improving air quality.

It’s no secret that cities produce a lot of air and water pollution, both impacting their livability and the health of their citizens. By placing permits for industrial activities and construction, introducing low emission zones, switching to district energy and bettering water and wastewater management practices, cities can reduce their pollution output while also improving quality of life.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Designing Gender-Inclusive Cities that Work for All

MD Staff

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Modern cities are designed BY MEN and FOR MEN, thereby limiting women’s access to economic and social development, according a new World Bank publication launched today at the World Urban Forum (WUF10)

The Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design makes the point that with women occupying just 10 percent of the highest-ranking jobs at the world’s leading architecture firms, cities have historically been planned and designed to reflect traditional gender roles and gendered division of labor. As a result, cities work better for men than they do for women.

“Men, women, gender minorities, and people of different abilities tend to use the public space in different ways,” stressed Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land.  “We all have different needs and routines when it comes to our access to the city. However, if the city is built for the ‘neutral’ male user, it neglects the needs, interests, and routines of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities in the city. This has enormous impacts on women’s access to jobs or schools, on their freedoms and safety, as well as their health and agency, and it reinforces gender inequalities.”

There are six issue areas in the built environment that combine with gender inequity to constrain, inconvenience, and even endanger women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities:

Access – using services and spaces in the public realm, free from constraints and barriers

Mobility – moving around the city safely, easily, and affordably

Safety and freedom from violence – being free from real and perceived danger in public and private spheres

Health and hygiene – leading an active lifestyle that is free from health risks in the built environment

Climate resilience – being able to prepare for, respond to, and cope with the immediate and long-term effects of disaster

Security of tenure – accessing and owning land and housing to live, work, and build wealth and agency

“Urban planning and design shape the environment around us – and that environment, in turn, shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest,” said Maitreyi Das, Manager of the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land Global Practice.  “In general, cities work better for heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender men than they do for women, girls, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities.  Faced with challenges ranging from transportation services that prioritize commuting over caregiving, to the lack of lighting and toilets in public spaces, many women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities around the world feel inconvenienced, ill-at-ease, and unsafe in the urban environment.”

Although the World Bank and other institutions are firmly committed to advancing gender equality, oftentimes urban planners, project managers, and practitioners lack awareness of the importance of prioritizing gender in the urban design process, and do not have the specific, on-the-ground knowledge or tools to effectively implement gender-inclusive strategies.

To address this, the Handbook encourages gender-inclusive planning and design, which actively includes the voice of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities.  The publication seeks to fill the clear gap between policy and practice, intention and action, by showing why and how to incorporate gender inclusion into urban planning and design.

The Handbook sets out practical approaches, activities, and design guidelines that show how to do this – how to implement a participatory and inclusive design process that explores the experiences and uses of the city from the perspective of all citizen: women, men, and sexual and gender and other minorities.

It also gives clear, specific design guidelines, appropriate for and adaptable to all regions, for a range of planning fields, including housing, public transport and mobility infrastructure, other infrastructure services, and city master plans. 

The Handbook is written for practitioners and planners who are looking for practicable tools and activities to engage people of all genders in design and planning. It focuses on both the process of planning and the final product: the project. The aim is to design cities that work for everyone.

The Handbook was co-authored by Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), a nonprofit community development and design firm that centers inclusive, participatory approaches.

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Urban Development

Investing in Public Spaces to Achieve Livable Cities for All

MD Staff

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Many cities around the world are missing out on significant development opportunities by ignoring, under-leveraging, or mismanaging public spaces. There is an enormous opportunity for smarter use of public spaces, to unlock the “hidden” value they create for communities, neighborhoods, and entire cities, according to a new World Bank publication launched today at the World Urban Forum (WUF10)

The publication, The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Creating, Financing, and Managing Public Spaces, says that well-conceived, people-centered urban public spaces have vast potential to become assets that cities can leverage to transform the quality of urban life and improve city functioning.

“Globally, about one-third of a city’s land area is covered by public spaces–ranging from city streets, neighborhood squares and parks, to public facilities, such as libraries and markets. This is significant,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land.  “Sustainably planning, financing, and managing public spaces with a focus on people is key to unleashing cities’ potential for building livable, resilient, and competitive cities for all.”

According to the book, city governments often do not invest in the creation and management of good-quality public spaces due to poor and ad hoc urban planning, budgetary constraints, and other pressing priorities arising from rapid urbanization. As a result, public spaces often become liabilities, creating a downward spiral that drains public resources and exacerbates various city problems.

Jon Kher Kaw, World Bank Senior Urban Specialist and lead author of the publication, highlighted the other end of the spectrum, “Cities that successfully create and manage great public spaces and places  buck this trend. They reap the rewards from the enormous value that is created, including the environmental and social benefits that go beyond economic gains.”

Kaw added that “Public spaces are especially good arenas for creativity and collaboration between governments, the private sector, and citizens for creating vibrant and inclusive neighborhoods and districts.”

The publication urges cities to adopt imaginative and effective strategies to create, finance, and manage public spaces, prioritizing their value for people, communities, and places. These strategies should focus on three major areas:

Stakeholders and partnerships: create public spaces for and with communities, and recognize the need for strong partnerships between governments, private sector actors, and citizens.

Policies, planning, and design: adopt effective planning policies, placemaking approaches, and innovative design solutions that ensure the equitable distribution, inclusion and access, and quality of public-space networks across the city.

Management, governance, and finance: implement sustainable financial, management, and governance models across the entire public-space asset life cycle, from their initial creation, implementation, maintenance and to their renewal.

The publication notes that it is through these strategies that public spaces–whether on the streets, within infrastructure spaces and public facilities, or in open and green areas–can yield returns on investment far exceeding the monetary costs.

Building on more than 20 city case studies from around the globe, the publication illustrates how successful public spaces help cities strengthen social cohesion and sense of place; promote urban health and citizen well-bring; build urban resilience; support the local economy and livelihoods; spur urban regeneration and entrepreneurship; and attract further investments into urban neighborhoods.

Download the publication to read the case studies and learn how city leaders, policymakers, and urban practitioners can better plan, finance, and manage both government- and privately-owned public spaces to achieve livable cities for all.

The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Creating, Financing, and Managing Public Spaces received support from UN-Habitat, European Space Agency (Earth Observation for Sustainable Development initiative), Centre for Liveable Cities (Singapore), Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements, and Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (KGGTF).

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