The Herald

Cities: powerhouse­s of positive change?

Faced with the twin threats of a rising global population and mass migration to cities, urban centres are going to be increasing­ly under pressure. The race is on therefore to remodel our cities and mitigate their climate impact, discovers Colin Cardwell


WHEN the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 2022 climate report in March this year, it didn’t pull any punches. The world faces “multiple climate hazards over the next two decades, some of which will be irreversib­le,” it stated bleakly.

And if – as it has been estimated – 80 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by the middle of the century, these crowded convergenc­es of humanity will increasing­ly be the crucible of many threats to the survival of our planet and the seemingly inexorable yearly advance of Earth Overshoot Day.

An additional 2.5 billion people are projected to be living in cities and large urban areas by 2050. China alone is home to 19 ‘megacities’ ranging from Harbin with a population of five million to Shanghai with 25 million inhabitant­s. In addition to the ordeal this megalopoli­s is undergoing owing to China’s zerocovid strategy, the city is one of the world’s most vulnerable to flooding and according to Climate Central projection­s, 17.5 million people could be displaced by rising waters if global temperatur­es increase by 3oc.

So, is the future for our urban areas inevitably desolate? Perhaps not. There are times when an urgent need to change coincides with an exceptiona­l, probably unique opportunit­y for positive change and while large urban centres are hotspots for climate impacts, they also offer the opportunit­y to avoid the worst impacts of warming, with large population­s adopting renewable energy, greener transport, improved waste management and investment in nature-based solutions.

Dr Maria Soledad Garcia-ferrari is a senior lecturer at Edinburgh School of Architectu­re and Landscape Architectu­re at the University of Edinburgh where she holds a Personal Chair of Global Urbanism and Resilience. She agrees that the importance of cities and urban centres as enablers of change as well as agents of pollution is increasing­ly relevant.

However, she says: “While the challenges are being addressed by policy and practice the solutions are not yet well integrated”. One of these key challenges, she adds is the very notion of what a city is. “We must be careful about the way that we conceptual­ise cities. They often continue to expand without a clear strategy in place to manage conditions that are not either fully urban or rural – an ambiguous situation that could have significan­t potential for the implementa­tion of plans that aim to reduce the impact of climate change.”

There is also, she says, a need for greater integratio­n of these strategies. “We have initiative­s that are intended to result in more collaborat­ion between institutio­ns and communitie­s – but these are at an early stage and the policy around the planning is not keeping pace with these conversati­ons yet.”

The idea of the ‘20-minute neighbourh­ood’ has been gaining momentum, one aimed at cutting down on transport and regenerati­ng local business and Dr Garcia-ferrari believes this can be an important tool in measuring the opportunit­ies in an immediate environmen­t.

However, there is no one-fits-all solution with specific contexts and issues that must be understood and integrated in any decision-making process regarding a range of cultures and communitie­s with differing needs. Collaborat­ion, she adds, is key to understand­ing the different levels of informatio­n and data that help form this process.

Alison Mcrae, senior director at Glasgow Chamber of Commerce concurs that collaborat­ion both within and between cities is of critical importance in achieving net-zero and that action in towns and cities can result in a positive payback.

“There should be more focus on measures to attract people rather than discourage them, as densely populated areas will play a key role in carbon reduction – but this will not be achieved without a circular economy within our cities,” she says.

“The economic reality is that the transition to net zero has the potential to create a huge opportunit­y for businesses of all sizes to prosper and contribute in the move towards a circular economy. Cities that have been disproport­ionately affected by the pandemic should look at this opportunit­y as a key enabler for recovery,” she adds.

“Some 56 per cent of the global population lives in urban population­s with between 60-80 per cent of greenhouse gases coming from these areas – a considerab­le economic and social challenge which we can address by developing economic structures at a local level which are tailored to needs and outputs from those businesses.

“For instance, the Circular Glasgow group brings together businesses of all sizes to work together to develop a circular economy, by creating lifelong value from our materials and resources.”

Business, she says, must identify the right opportunit­ies to contribute. “By creating a structure which develops supply chain opportunit­ies at a local level, we are able to develop commercial opportunit­ies for all forms of businesses while progressin­g toward a net-zero future.”

At the Scottish Property Federation (SPF) the trade body representi­ng the country’s real estate industry, director David Melhuish says that while there are encouragin­g blueprints for the net zero city and town of the future, some 80 per cent of the buildings that will be in use by 2045/50 have already been built.

Many of these buildings, he says currently don’t meet the new standards required by government, modern occupiers and ultimately investors – an elephant that has been in the room for some considerab­le time.

He stresses though that there is also opportunit­y. Smart buildings use Bluetooth beacons to enable occupiers to control their lighting, climate and energy consumptio­n, for example, while we are increasing­ly meeting aspiration­s regarding Environmen­tal, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.

“We also need a tax and regulatory system that gives the sector a chance to reinvest in and regenerate town centres – and there are options to make these existing buildings more sustainabl­e.

“There is an encouragin­g aspiration throughout the industry to achieve net zero goals for our towns and cities but that must be nurtured and supported.”

He adds that next month, the British Property Federation (SPF’S parent organisati­on) is launching a Net Zero Pledge that specifical­ly aims to support smaller members on their journey to net-zero by connecting small and large members in this common goal.

Meanwhile cities are here to stay; as well as being the powerhouse­s of technology and commerce, Dr Garcia-ferrari points to the vibrancy of expression that community interactio­n can generate on many levels. “If we look at the challenges that we have in terms of climate change, the human and social energy that we find in cities will be our key resource,” she says.

Some 80 per cent of the buildings that will be in use by 2045/50 have already been built

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 ?? ?? Experts agree that the transforma­tion of cities will require collaborat­ion and communicat­ion, with Alison Mcrae, senior director at Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, pictured below, calling for the developmen­t of economic structures at a more local level
Experts agree that the transforma­tion of cities will require collaborat­ion and communicat­ion, with Alison Mcrae, senior director at Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, pictured below, calling for the developmen­t of economic structures at a more local level
 ?? ?? David Melhuish, director at the Scottish Property Federation
David Melhuish, director at the Scottish Property Federation
 ?? ?? Dr Maria Soledad Garcia-ferrari
Dr Maria Soledad Garcia-ferrari

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