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10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design

The argument on the need to make cities sustainable is long passé. What is important at this point is to determine how -- as megacities continue to boom and choke from overpopulation, traffic congestion, pollution, diseases, disasters etc. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, cities the world over will be hosting as much as the entire global population in 2012.1

Unfortunately, there is no one-that-fits-all solution to making cities sustainable. According to Juliet Davis, a lecturer in UK’s Cardiff University: “Sustainability has come to encompass so many indicators across socio-cultural, economic and environmental domains.2

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design - Sustainable Cities

It is important to study a city individually, including its various elements, in order to determine the best possible way to ensure its sustainability.

The World Economic Forum argues for “tireless innovation.” It presents a framework, composed of four principles, that can serve as the bedrock for ensuring sustainability:

1) unleashing spare capacity by maximizing available resources;

2) cutting out demand peaks on resources through appropriate management;

3) considering small-scale infrastructure such as cycle lanes and bike sharing; and

4) encouraging people-centered innovation.3

In its 2015 report, the WEF listed 10 best innovations4ibid. in ensuring sustainability:

1. Reprogramming space

There is a need for cities to make the shift from building large scale infrastructure to maximizing the use of existing ones. The megacities of New York, Vancouver, and Glasgow have taken the lead on this. Melbourne is working on a program to allow the use of its historic buildings for different purposes.

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design - New York City Uses Historic Buildings

In London for example, there is a footfall harvesting mechanism installed in the area of West Ham, located in the eastern part of the city. The walkway towards the underground station are fixed with smart tiles that capture energy from the footsteps of pedestrians walking in the area. This energy is then converted to electricity that powers the streetlights in the area.5

2. Creating an online water system

New smart water management models are currently being developed to ensure the sustainability of water, with the installation of smart sensors for water control and rainwater collection as well as detection of network issues. MIT researchers are currently working on sensors to detect bacteria and viruses in sewage water.

In Lima, researchers have developed the “billboard with a difference” – with a system that allow for trapping humidity in the air and extracting water vapor to produce drinking water.6

Pedestrians can even drink from the water.

3. Tapping Your Social Network for Trees

Out of the current 7.4 billion world population, 3.7 are internet users and 2.7 are social media users.7 What if you can tap at least a third of this number of people who are active internet and social media users to plant just one tree?

Melbourne has created a website called the Urban Forest Visual which allows residents to plant a tree, track and share it on social networks. This strategy has resulted to the city’s 22 percent tree cover which is expected to double by 2040.

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design - Singapore Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Credit: Pexels

In Singapore, the iconic supertrees at the Gardens by the Bay are not simply for Instagram. They also feature the city’s sustainable practices, harvest solar energy and serve as air exhaust receptacles.8

Related Post: 9 Reasons Why You Should Be Planting More Trees in Your Urban Street

4. Improving Mobility

Architect and urban planner Jaime Lerner emphasizes that planners who want to address mobility issues must make people a priority over cars.

“If you own a car, it occupies 25 square meters near your home; if you drive to work, it occupies another 25 square meters near your workplace, meaning that a total of 50 square meters are immobilized for parking purposes9,” he said.

As such, it is important for cities to ensure an efficient and safe mass public transport system and/or encourage cycling, similar to that of many European countries. 

Related Post: 5 Outstanding Examples of Sustainable Design Around the World

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design - Transportation

Train station in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Pexels

5. Co-generating, Co-heating, Co-cooling

This Co-Co-Co formula encourages energy efficiency. Co-generation systems are used to capture and use excess heat, tri-generation systems can heat or cool buildings and quad-generation systems can recover carbon dioxide used in the process for other applications.

Currently, the Australian city of Sydney’s Town Hall has a tri-generation system that produces electricity that power up its civic buildings. Forecasts show that the system will help in reducing their carbon emission footprint by 70 percent in 2030.10

6. Sharing spare capacity

Digital and social media has enabled the possibility of sharing spaces and resources among people. It has seen the growth of AirBnB which enables people to rent out unused spaces, Uber and carpooling websites and apps that help in reducing carbon footprint. Co-working spaces are increasingly popular with freelancers and the self-employed. 

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design - Co-working space

7. On-demand mobility

Likewise, the Internet and new technologies allow for more efficient traffic management and the development of programs such as the mass transport vehicle routing algorithm of Irvine University. This has great impact to future transport options especially for public transport and shared ride fleet vehicles.11

8. Social integration infrastructure

Medellin, Colombia, once named as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, has undergone a lot of transformation especially with using architecture and urbanism for social development. In doing so, it was able to connect people and eliminate violence.

9. Smart Street Lamps for Urban Sensing

The LED streetlights technology allow the possibility of collecting data from weather to pollution and even public safety. This transforms the use of streetlights to so much more.

Dutch designer/artist Daan Roosegaarde has also experimented with a bioluminescent plant that uses DNA from a luminescent bacteria to make a glowing plant that can possibly replace current street lamps.12

10. Urban Farming

To cut wastes and costs of transporting food and vegetables, roofs, buildings, and city walls can be used to grow food. These are made possible by technologies such as hydrophonics which does not require soil, use of LED lights etc. This has great potential for ensuring food sustainability.

10 Innovative Ways Cities Can Incorporate Sustainable Design

Do you have any other innovative solutions to make cities more sustainable? Share your thoughts with us. We would love to hear from you!

Show 12 footnotes

  1.  World Economic Forum. 2015. Top Ten Urban Innovations. Global Agenda, October 2015. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Top_10_Emerging_Urban_Innovations_report_2010_20.10.pdf
  2.  The Guardian. 2015. What The Experts Say: How To Make Our Cities More Sustainable. The Guardian, 17 April 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/17/how-to-make-our-cities-more-sustainable-expert-view#comments.
  3.  World Economic Forum. 2015. Top Ten Urban Innovations. Global Agenda, October 2015. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Top_10_Emerging_Urban_Innovations_report_2010_20.10.pdf.
  4.  Balch, O. 2015. Ten Quirky Ideas for Making Our Cities More Sustainable. The Guardian, 16 April 2015. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/16/ten-quirky-ideas-for-making-our-cities-more-sustainable.
  5. ibid.
  6.  Kemp, S. 2017. Digital in 2017: Global Overview. WeAreSocial, 24 January 2017. Available at: http://wearesocial.com/uk/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-global-overview.
  7.  Gardens by the Bay. No date. SuperTree Grove. Available at: http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/attractions/supertree-grove/facts-and-figures.html.
  8.  Lerner, J. 2015. How to Build a Sustainable City. The New York Times, 07 December 2015. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/opinion/how-to-build-a-sustainable-city.html?_r=2.
  9.  City of Sydney. 2016. Trigeneration. City of Sydney, updated 03 November 2016. Available at: http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/towards-2030/sustainability/carbon-reduction/trigeneration.
  10.  Jayakrishnan, R. no date. Mass Transport Vehicle Routing Problem (MTVRP) and the Associated Network Design Problem (MTNDP). University of California. Available at: http://www.uctc.net/research/papers/748.pdf.
  11.  Balch, O. 2015. Ten Quirky Ideas for Making Our Cities More Sustainable. The Guardian, 16 April 2015. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/16/ten-quirky-ideas-for-making-our-cities-more-sustainable.

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About the author

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan is a results-driven media and communication expert with over 15 years of experience and proven track record in working with the Philippine Government and donor agencies such as the USAID, World Bank, UN-FAO, ADB, European Union (EU) and media. Political and strategic communication, messaging and campaigns are among her expertise. She spearheaded the communication program on the Bangsamoro peace process which led to a conducive environment for the signing of the historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She is a graduate of BA Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines and has completed the academic requirements for MA Communication Research from the same university. She is a UK Chevening scholar currently studying MA International Public Relations and Global Communications Management at Cardiff University.

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