According to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, over the next 15 years, about $90 trillion will be invested in infrastructure in the world’s cities, agriculture and energy systems.

How these changes are managed will shape future patterns of growth, productivity and living standards.

According to a report by The Sustainable Cities Collective, 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries agree these funds should be spent fighting climate change.

The report concludes that countries at all levels of income have the opportunity to create sustainable high economic systems and build economic growth concurrent to reducing the risks associated with climate change.

One of the identified challenges is to remove cars from cities. Compact urban form, community hubs, walkability and public transport access are part of the solution. Positive community and public health outcomes will result from reduced dependency on personal vehicles and increased walkability of communities.

Presenting at the World Economic Forum at Davos last month, David Thorpe of the Sustainable Cities Collective reported that former president of Mexico Felipe Calderon told delegates that the cities of the world should be redesigned so that they do not need cars.

“We cannot have these cities with low density, designed for the use of cars … recommend those cities should have more density and more mass transportation,” he said.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the infrastructure that will be in place by 2050 not currently in existence, it is necessary for decisions to be made now that have positive outcomes into the future.

Removing Cars from cities remains a key strategy in greening cities

Removing cars from cities remains a key strategy in greening cities

At the recent Transforming Transportation 2015, Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity conference, concepts and realities were explored that may have profound effect on how cities and infrastructure are designed and built in the future, and how individuals/families/commerce may interact within these realms.

Semi-autonomous and/or highly automated systems for personal and public transport systems will become pervasive over the next decade. Personal vehicles, trucks and buses are becoming increasingly connected to services providing information on traffic, weather and other events that might affect a journey. Google, Audi and others are developing these new technologies.

For existing cities that are based around movement by personal vehicle (like most cities in Australia and Los Angeles in the United States), the transition and related costs to a public transport oriented future will be challenging to the public purse. As cities spread, city administrators need to think of community hubs and how local services can be provided at these hubs. This reduces the need to commute or travel in the first place. Being able to situate people’s homes near to their jobs and the things they need helps to keep it local and reduce congestion and carbon emissions, according to the Sustainable Cities Collective.

Through quality planning in the development of efficient, integrated transport systems, huge savings can be made, emissions can be reduced, and streets can be safer and made for people. Planning that includes the opportunity for affordable housing/mixed-housing developments in close proximity to the public transport networks will help create these dynamic cities while reducing energy related emissions, morbidity and mortality rates related to traffic accidents, amongst other benefits.

An additional benefit to improving public transport systems is the reduction in congestion costs and air pollution-related health, adaption and mitigation strategies. Initiatives such as New York City’s Active Design Guidelines apply the paradigm of connecting design ideas to reliable public health data, incorporating inputs from design and construction, health and mental health, transportation and planning professionals.

Cities or regional authorities must have an overarching economic, environmental and social inclusion vision based on a true assessment of their strengths, challenges and opportunities that focus on using the best research from successful examples elsewhere and an appropriate application of technology. Cities need to take the lead and manage upwards to state/province leadership and national leadership on the issues that affect their cities. Society, and more specifically city administrators, must be taken into account when developing policy and plans.

Ideal plans would suggest:

  • That there must be a sustainable resilient, adaptable, built environment that is robust in the face of climate challenges and which meets the needs of all residents and economic participants
  • Access to services, education and healthy environments must apply to everyone to enable them to take their part in the economic revitalisation of the city/community. Social inclusion policy must be placed equally to corporate plans and urban planning/ technology planning.
  • Technology and information industries can be harnessed in the cause of long-term economic health. This needs to be balanced for those who wish to participate in society through more traditional craft and transport methodologies.

Cities need to reform their decision-making structure in order to integrate technology and sustainability measures into decision-making. The new Smart Cities technologies in terms of managing hard and soft infrastructure (e.g. climate resilience and reducing energy use) and communication technology lead to opportunities afforded to members of society to develop personal economic independence and, through the power of social media, to inform and influence other members of society, including decision makers.

Cities such as Songdo in South Korea have already been constructed according to the Smart Cities template. Songdo’s roads and water, waste and electricity systems are dense with electronic sensors to enable the city’s brain to track and respond to the movement of residents. Rio de Janeiro is taking similar measures. Implementation of these plans and strategies are not without inherent social, economic and environmental risks.

Investment and implementation risk must be spread across multiple parties. De-risking involves interventions by government entities during the development process to reduce risk and, therefore, financing costs, social licence to operate costs, and environmental costs.

Such interventions can be far more cost effective than direct support. For example, by accelerating the permitting process for land and infrastructure development while taking into account the opinions and needs of the social players directly affected by the development, governments can offer a no cost benefit to developers. These investments could also include vehicle plug-in stations, lane management systems that interface with vehicles and city infrastructure owners and operators, wayfinding technologies and true vehicle sharing technologies.

There must be better communication between cities and within urban centres. European Commission programs like Smart Cities and Communities help build networks through formal communication and grant-making authority. Third way participants need to be involved in these formal networks, as do major economic players such as land developers, resource companies, financial and superannuation institutions and importantly representative of small to medium-sized enterprises who generally are (combined) the largest group of employers in most societies across the globe.

Cities are now the dominant location within which people live. Each city as it grows will have very specific “local” matters that require “local” responses (e.g. rapid transit system implementation; walkable, safe pathways; side-walk economic activity.) The significant demographic shift to cities around the world provides the impetus and the opportunity for these concepts to be explored and implemented by strategic minded city administrators, city engineers and planners.