Sustainable cities: Nature, people and the future in harmony
Sustainable cities bring the sustainability aspects of ‘planet’, ‘people’ and an economy seeking new ‘perspectives’ into harmony within a geographically compact area. This is also a matter of urgency, as according to estimates almost 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. More than 80% of global economic activity is concentrated in urban areas. Even though urban areas occupy only 3% of the world’s surface, they consume three quarters of global resources.1
Sustainable cities primarily target Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals. This aims to reduce the urban environmental impact per capita, especially in terms of air quality and waste management. Cities need to develop in a more inclusive and sustainable way. Universal access to safe and inclusive green spaces and public spaces also needs to be ensured, along with affordable housing and transport systems. Committing to these goals opens up various fields of action for a city.
1 17 Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung, EDA, 2021
‘Sustainable’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘green’, but green spaces form part of a sustainable environment. They help to regenerate urban areas, preserve species and absorb CO2. A ‘sponge city’ maintains green spaces which filter and collect rainwater for further use. ‘Green’ power is also released thanks to measures such as planting vertical forests or mini-forests or converting urban facilities.
Staying mobile in the long term
Mobility is a key urban issue. At the forefront of sustainable mobility is public transport, cycling and walking. Everything that’s necessary for life should be within 20 minutes’ reach. Smart commuters use dynamic, algorithm-based route planning. Successful e-mobility requires a suitable charging infrastructure, state subsidy programmes and new forms of use such as electric car sharing. For example, districts can share a fleet of electric vehicles.
“Sustainable cities utilise the intelligence of new information technology.”
Sustainable cities strive for energy neutrality or self-sufficiency. Certain cantons currently already require the use of renewable energies in new buildings and provide financial subsidies for this purpose. Bioclimatic construction is also making inroads. This involves using building methods and materials that reduce energy consumption. Buildings are designed to be self-sufficient in electricity, for example by installing solar cells directly on window surfaces.
Stimulus for business and life
All cities have an economy. This is why sustainable cities build an innovative, resource-conserving and open economic system that relies on networking, cooperation, the circular economy and flexible working models. This increases their resilience to crises and reduces climate risks. Digital innovation is playing a valuable role in stimulating the economy. New business areas are emerging based on advanced technologies. This is strengthening the foundations for barrier-free, communal, safe and healthy living based on equal opportunities.
From sustainable to smart
Sustainable cities utilise the intelligence of new information technology to optimise the functioning and management of their resources and reduce costs. They are turning into smart cities, which means they collect data that they can use to manage and adjust their service offering for electricity, water, transport, waste, schools or hospitals, for example – sometimes in real time.
Leading by example
London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Frankfurt and Zurich are clear examples of sustainable cities. Kitakyushu is less well known. The former centre of heavy industry, which once propelled Japan’s economy forward, had close to no oxygen in its Dokai Bay in the 1960s. Its nickname was ‘The Sea of Death’. Nowadays, the city can label itself Japan’s first eco-city.
Impressive showcase models for smart cities also exist. Waven City on the former Toyota factory site is self-sufficient in energy and emissions-free. The power plant in the city of Kashiwanoha is revolutionary. Its smart grid system with one of Japan’s largest lithium-ion storage cell systems, along with its solar and gas-powered emergency generators, have helped reduce peak electricity consumption by more than a quarter.
In Switzerland too, numerous efforts are under way to create sustainable urban living spaces. The Future Cities Laboratory, a cooperation between ETH and various universities in Singapore, helps make cities and settlement systems sustainable through science. The SmartCity Alliance provides a marketplace for the transfer of knowledge, quality and investment protection. And pioneering cities 2 such as Winterthur, Pully and Zug are considered trailblazers for smart city initiatives,3 which are producing promising outcomes.
2 Leitfaden zur Umsetzung von Smart-City-Initiativen in der Schweiz, energieschweiz, 2019
3 Strategie Smart City Winterthur, Stadt Winterthur, 2018