Focus on Sustainable Cities and Communities

Focus on Sustainable Cities and Communities

Assumptions and objectives to make cities and communities sustainable

Cities have often been a vehicle for generating new ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity and social development, and up to the present they have also enabled people to improve their social and economic conditions. However, many challenges persist to keep city centers as places not dangerous for both lands and resources. Today half of humanity (about 4 billion people) lives in urban areas and almost 60% of the world population will inhabit urban areas by 2030; 95% of urban expansion in the coming decades will occur in developing countries; currently 30% of the world's urban population lives in slums or otherwise in conditions of housing discomfort and this rate is constantly increasing; cities occupy only 3% of the earth's surface but they are responsible for 60% -80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions; the rapid urbanization puts pressure on fresh water supplies, sewers, environment and public health. So it is priority to achieve the Objective 11 of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development called "Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable".

The Objective 11 works at global level and aims to guarantee everyone access to adequate, safe and convenient basic housing and services and the modernization of poor neighborhoods; to provide everyone with access to safe and sustainable transport systems, improving road safety; to increase inclusive and sustainable urbanization and the capacity for participatory and integrated planning and management of human settlement; to safeguard cultural and natural heritage; to reduce the negative environmental impact per capita of cities, especially related to air quality and waste management; to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible public green spaces; to support positive economic, social and environmental relations between urban, peri-urban and rural areas; to significantly increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans for mitigation and adaptation to climate change, disaster resilience, development and implementation of interventions in line with risk of disasters; to support the developing countries on the construction of sustainable and resilient buildings.

Examples of sustainability for cities and communities

The sustainability of cities (and communities in general) will therefore play a strategic role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In the last decades many realities worked for that and many examples can be quoted. In public and private transport, compared to the past less and less impactful practices are being increasingly experimented and disseminated; car, bus, taxi, bike sharing and free floating, safe pedestrian routes and integrated public transport services are just examples of these actions, that thereby promote huge savings in terms of resources (temporal, economic and mineral).

For some years many cities are experimenting their plans of times and schedules in order to contribute to the decongestion of traffic and the reduction of atmospheric and acoustic pollution, to increase the liveability of cities with the reorganization of times and schedules services, to facilitate citizens' access to public services, to shorten the time needed to provide services and to develop greater efficiency of the entire urban system, particularly towards the most disadvantaged social categories.

Some of these practices used technologically innovative materials (such as carbon nanotubes). Others have resumed and repeated the use of traditional knowledge that had been almost completely abandoned over the centuries to encourage the industrial development; we can for example mention the cob and straw-bale constructions, the vertical gardens built on the buildings, the restyling of dwellings dug into the rock or placed underground to keep the landscape intact, the "trompe" walls of the Andean plateau able to accumulate the heat from the sun during the day and redistribute it inside the house during the night (when the temperatures drop considerably), or the systems of channeling and collecting rainwater in cisterns for domestic or agricultural consumption.

Also, the propagation of the traditional landscape eco-museums is helping to enhance the tangible and intangible heritage of the communities. As well as the birth of sustainable communities, such as those created in Italy in Monestevole, in Vorovoro in the Fiji Islands, in Sierra Leone, in Bali and in Papua New Guinea thanks to the support of the "Tribewanted" international cooperative (link); those communities were set up to establish and develop sustainable realities, but also to promote ecotourism and responsible tourism practices all over the world by re-evaluating communities belonging to depressed areas.

We can also mention Christiania in Denmark (capable of converting old abandoned military buildings into social houses based on the principle of self-determination and collective ownership), the ecological community of Peñalolen in Chile or the eco-villages created on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, where the focus has been placed on the recycling of materials otherwise destined for disposal, in order to build sustainable structures through the use of eco-bricks made of tires or plastic bottles. Anyway this trend should not come as a surprise if we think that in the past few centuries ideal cities and communities have been imagined (and in some cases realized), such as those of Pienza, Ivrea, Urbino, Palmanova, Terra del Sole, Sabbioneta and Acaya in Italy, New Lanark in England (link), the "Ciudad Lineal" in Spain, Auroville in India and Arcosanti in the United States.

Community urban gardens, green districts and sustainable communities that are now spreading like wildfire all over the world and where organic products are produced, where solar plants for the production of hot water, electricity and biomass are installed, where permaculture, green building, phytodepuration for water recycling are applied and where electric vehicles were introduced, are further examples of what we are trying to do to re-balance a collective system going toward the collapse.

Fortunately, for a few decades, civil society and public institutions also started working on disaster risk management. Bio-engineering works to cope with widespread hydro-geological instability are a classic example, having the dual function of mitigating the landslides risk and oxygenating heavily polluted areas. As well as the resettlement of communities located in highly vulnerable areas through the construction of new public and private facilities, designed for the adaptation to climate change and able to withstand tornadoes, earthquakes and floods, totally respecting the autochthonous traditions.

Many of these practices are being tested thanks to the use of increasingly participatory methodological approaches, inclusive and therefore sustainable, that involve all the stakeholders (citizens, associations, institutions and enterprises) in all phases of the their realization. For example, the NGO "Health Bridge" (link) in Hoi An in Vietnam has developed a process of community involvement to design and build gardens and playgrounds realized thanks to a fundraising and the community participation in the implementation phase of the new thematic spaces.

Also the digital transformation, the enhancement of cultural heritage and the management of natural resources are assuming an increasingly decisive role in the sustainable development of territories, becoming elements of competitiveness for startups, generating channels for circular economy and creating opportunities for the aggregation of citizens. As well as the transition from basic broadband infrastructures to the use of the open data, to the exchange of data and services, to the use of data to make decisions, is first of all cultural, as well as digital. Furthermore urban innovation increasingly produces shared spaces generating innovative ways of aggregation and social inclusion, such as working residential spaces, co-working, urban centers and containers for startups.


Author: Alessandro Zito / Materahub

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