Forty-five presenters in the field of Sustainable Urban Development gathered to share their expertise and vision on the current and future life in cities during the 5th Congress of Sustainable Cities organized by the Green Building Council Costa Rica (GBCCR) 17 – 18 May 2018. Many emerging challenges and solutions in urban development were pointed out, especially given the rapid growing urban population and the pressure it generates on natural resources use. All agreed on the fact that we need to stop working in silo’s, create multi-stakeholders alliances, start sharing knowledge and find ways to cooperate to transform urban area’s into vibrant, safe, livable cities.
City of Love
At the opening session, the President of the Green Building Council, Mr. Tai Lee Siang said that building innovation should focus on zero waste and the basic understanding of the broad vision of sustainability. At the end, he presented key ideas of his book ‘Cities of love’, in which he makes a point that if we love something, we care for it. “If we love our city, we will care for it as we do for our family.” Mr. Tai Lee Siang stressed the importance of constant feedback loop between the users, the builders and all those involved in a development project.
The morning session also counted with a speech by the new first lady of Costa Rica, Claudia Dobles (architect and urban planner), who reaffirmed her determination to help address the challenges of public transportation and mobility in San Jose. She stressed a number of key ideas on the importance of better articulation, cooperation and true commitments of both the public and the private sector. She said that “we need to rethink how we design urban planning… and the vision of the city we want…. we have to consider cities as instruments to generate employment and to address social inequalities”.
Several presenters emphasized the importance to move ahead towards the vision of “smart cities” as a place that seeks the quality of life of its inhabitants and that considers the interconnectedness of various sectors.
Among the Sustainability experts was Mirian Vilela, Executive Director of the Earth Charter International Center on Education for Sustainable Development. At the closing plenary, she talked about the excitement many feel when they arrive in a big city until you realize the huge number of people consuming water, food, energy and generating waste in such a condensed space and short time. Mirian emphasized the need for long-term urban planning and visioning through a broad sustainability and values-based approach. She shared a few examples of cities that have used the Earth Charter as a road map for their policy design and urban planning. She encouraged participants to consider these examples and use the Earth Charter as an ethical framework for sustainable urban development and as a compass when seeking to transform cities into centers of innovation.
Irma Verhoeven, Programme and Partnership Development manager at the Earth Charter International Secretariat and project manager at the World of Walas (author of the Earth Charter Cities Manifesto) shared the techniques Walas’ uses to transform old industrial areas into vibrant neighborhoods. These techniques are based on the values described in the Earth Charter.
The Weight of Cities
Adriana Zacarias (Regional Coordinator of Resource Efficiency sub-programme at UNEP at the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean) presented a summary of the UN Environment report “The Weight of Cities” at the opening plenary.
During the session ‘Smart Cities II’ Prof. Mark Swilling of the Stellenbosch University in South Africa, presented details of the findings of this important research study on Requirements for Future Urbanization. The UNEP report is a ‘must read’ for everyone, especially in the work field of Sustainable Development. Find here the link to both the summary as well as the full report.
¨We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift this expected urbanization on to a more environmentally sustainable and socially just path. Decisions made today on urbanization and land-use models, as well as on critical infrastructure, will determine whether our investments are future-proof, or whether they lock us on to an unsustainable path.¨
To achieve a transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient, socially just cities, the report recommends:
- Monitoring the flow of resources entering and leaving the cities to understand the local situation and to help develop resource-efficient strategies.
- Planning cities to have:
- Compact growth, to avoid urban sprawl and so economize on the square kilometres of asphalt, the concrete, the electricity and the water wasted in spread-out cities.
- Better connections by efficient and affordable public transport (e.g. light rail, bus rapid transit).
- Liveable neighbourhoods where design encourages people to walk or cycle.
- Resource-efficient urban components, such as car sharing, electric vehicles and charging point networks, efficient energy, efficient waste and water systems, smart grids, cycle paths, energy-efficient buildings, new heating, cooling and lighting technology, etc.
- Infrastructure for cross-sector efficiency, such as using waste heat from industry in district energy systems and industrial waste materials in construction, such as fly-ash bricks.
- Establishing a new model for city governance and politics that supports imaginative business propositions and experimentation.
Although there are many good examples of sustainability urban planning, broadly, urban planning and cities are still being managed with fragmented, short-term and unsustainable approaches. Cities generate an incredible pressure on natural resources. Therefore, educating the general public, policy makers and builders on the basic understanding of sustainability and the true value of green building is essential. It is safe to say that the CICS2018 conference offered high quality information presented by key experts working on the transformation toward Sustainable Cities.
For more information on this Congress click here.