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SUSTAINABILITY | 01.08.2021

The keys to creating the cities of the future

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Ethiclab

According to the United Nations, there were 6.07 billion people in the world in the year 2000. This is exactly how many people there will be in our cities alone by around 2050. Although urbanization has its advantages, it is also plagued by disadvantages: pollution, overpopulation, housing issues, high poverty rates and water and energy waste all magnify the environmental impact on our planet and maintain the inequality between the richest and poorest in society.

How will we live in the cities of tomorrow? Not like we do now. One of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals—the objectives set in 2015 to eradicate poverty and protect the planet—is to ensure that life in the city is sustainable, self-sufficient and takes care of its own continuity over time. Do you want to know how? Read on.

The Netherlands and its ‘vertical revolution’: an example to follow

Agriculture accounts for 87 percent of the water used worldwide and livestock farming in Spain uses as much water in one year as all households put together in two decades. According to UN estimates, over nine billion people will need to be fed by 2050. Make of this what you will. With the aim of reducing water and land use, the Netherlands planted the first seed for sustainable agriculture and managed to become the ‘breadbasket of the world.’ How? By eliminating pesticides, getting rid of animal antibiotics, using solar panels, feeding cows crickets instead of soy beans and making better use of space; thereby gaining capacity to produce more tomatoes per square kilometer than any other country in the world. In addition, the Netherlands has paved the way in terms of growing crops vertically, on walls, in order to reduce excessive water use.

Accessible cities

In the harshest months of lockdown, we witnessed a reduction in traffic in cities and, as you would expect, pollution. This demonstrated the urgency of putting people at the heart of urban planning and mobility. Measures such as increasing the number of cycle paths, encouraging the use of the bicycles via a good public rental system, improving the frequency of public transport or designing ‘the 15-minute city,’ where services, schools, markets and stations are within walking distance, would create more accessible and inclusive cities.

A changing space

A city in which thousands of people live and move cannot remain the same forever. Large cities like Vancouver (Canada), New York (United States) and Melbourne (Australia) have begun to adapt their urban spaces to get ‘more from less’ by using the latest advances in architecture to create buildings that occupy less urban space and comfortably accommodate more people, by designing multi-purpose areas or expanding green and pedestrian areas.

Energy efficiency

Sustainable cities should not only rely on renewable energy and self-consumption—from things like solar panels—but also energy efficiency: consuming as little as possible. An important element of this is the energy rehabilitation of buildings, both housing and office blocks. In Spain, there has been a tendency to build with materials that do not help retain energy or insulate, forcing us to consume much more than we need to, especially heating and air conditioning.

Encourage local consumption

Cities have an abundance of stores offering cheap prices encouraging us to buy things we don’t really need, and these products have also traveled a long way and created a lot of pollution on their journey. A ‘green city’ involves local consumption, buying locally and thinking about reuse and responsible consumption: promoting what is known as the ‘circular economy.’

All this comes down to institutions more than citizens. However, as part of the city, you too can help make it greener in just a few years. Buy second-hand, don’t waste resources, recycle, reduce your plastic use and try to buy products that you know are sourced locally.