Turning Concrete Jungles Into Centers of Sustainability

Sustainable Urbanization Is Wave Of Future–If We Have One

The tangled web of international organizations that constitutes global governance has become so remote and ineffective that few count on it to deliver results anymore. Now, after decades of turf wars and self-marginalization, international organizations must rally around an increasingly pressing global priority: Sustainable urbanization.

BeFunky_TheBridge.jpgThe world is undergoing an unprecedented and irreversible wave of urbanization, with the share of the global population living in cities set to reach 60 percent by 2030. But rapid urbanization is driving up industrial fossil-fuel consumption and household water consumption, and is increasing demand for food in areas where arable land is scarce. In short, the current urbanization trajectory is not sustainable.

But existing efforts to alter the situation remain woefully inadequate. While the United Nations General Assembly has tasked its agency for human settlements, UN-Habitat, with promoting sustainable urbanization, the agency lacks the influence to ensure that this vital issue makes it onto the global agenda.

Moreover, international development players–including UN agencies, NGOs, corporate citizenship programs, and other charitable organizations–rarely coordinate their activities, even though their interventions are increasingly concentrated in densely populated cities.

Given that promoting sustainable urbanization and improving coordination would bolster progress in other priority areas (including women’s rights, climate change, youth unemployment, and literacy), sustainable urbanization must become a bureaucratic priority. And it must be complemented by a technological disruption, with investments channeled toward developing and distributing innovations that would make cities more livable, efficient, and sustainable.

In fact, many useful innovations, such as energy-generating building materials and zero-emissions transportation, already exist; they simply need to be made accessible to those who need them most. Devices like small-scale water-filtration systems, portable heart monitors, and low-cost tablet computers are already dramatically improving the lives of the world’s poorest citizens and helping to level the economic playing field.

The future impact of global governance rests on forging new alignments that facilitate the flow of vital knowledge and technologies from an increasingly diverse array of sources to urban populations worldwide. The tools needed to make urban life more sustainable are no longer flowing only from North to South and West to East. China has taken the lead in exporting solar photovoltaic cells, while clean-tech parks are arising even in the Arab world.

Governments, companies, supply-chain managers, corporate-citizenship strategists, NGOs, and others should commit to reducing their carbon footprints and to leveraging their resources to contribute to sustainable urbanization. Opportunities to make such contributions are appearing constantly across all sectors.

In construction, for example, contractors are forming partnerships with labs to test materials that better reflect heat while absorbing energy to power cooling systems, and utility companies are leveraging new software tools to deploy smart meters in homes and offices. Two US cities–New York and Seattle–have raised efficiency standards for new construction to record levels.


Similarly, automobile manufacturers, mobility-services companies, and local governments are working together to advance sustainable transportation by providing incentives for efficient non-ownership of vehicles. Now, carpooling is gaining prevalence in cities like Berlin.

Furthermore, MIT has developed the foldable electric CityCar, four of which can fit into a parking space. At last year’s Rio+20 conference, the eight largest multilateral development banks pledged $175 billion (5.2 trillion baht) to develop sustainable transportation.

Information technology can also reduce stress on the transportation system. For example, Singapore is harnessing its near-complete fiber-optic network to reduce urban congestion by introducing a spate of measures encouraging workers to telecommute. As these measures take effect, self-sufficient satellite towns will likely develop, reducing transportation-related energy consumption further, while fostering a more active civil society.

Singapore is one of the cleanest and most efficient cities/countries in the world.
Singapore is one of the cleanest and most efficient cities/countries in the world.

Singapore is leading the way in another area as well: Production and distribution of potable recycled water. Many cities worldwide are following its example, expanding their water catchment and treatment programs.

Meanwhile, vertical farm experiments–which aim to augment urban food supplies by cultivating crops in skyscraper greenhouses–are proliferating from the American Midwest to Osaka, Japan. And India has become a leader in converting biomass and food waste into energy.

Of course, the billions of farmers and villagers worldwide should not be forgotten. Interventions like rural electrification, the provision of drought-resistant seeds and agricultural technology, and the expansion of micro-insurance are vital not only to rural populations’ welfare, but also to catalyze a new ”Green Revolution,” without which city dwellers will face severe food shortages.

With new, innovative solutions appearing every day, the real challenge lies in bringing them to scale–and that requires international cooperation. But the ”smartest” cities are not necessarily the most technologically advanced. Rather, they are the places where technology and public policy support citizens’ welfare and aspirations. This crucial fact will guide discussion at the New Cities Foundation’s second annual summit next month–the theme of which is ”The Human City”–the heart of sustainable urbanization initiatives.

By Parag Khanna, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute and the author of The Second World, How to Run the World, and Hybrid Reality. 2013 Project Syndicate

Source: http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/351832/human-cities-must-replace-concrete-jungles

Cities Share Advice On Disaster Preparation & Response

This week’s news that Moore, Oklahoma had been devastated by another EF5 tornado – the second of that magnitude in 14 years – brought to mind a session at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Kansas City this past February. In that session, titled “Howling Winds and Ominous Skies: Disaster Resilience in the Age of Climate Change,” speakers recounted two extreme weather events and how local officials worked with state and federal agencies to deal with the aftermath and rebuild their communities.

The center of Greensburg, Kan., 12 days after it was hit by an EF5 tornado in 2007. The twister generated 210 mph winds and killed 11 people. Although the city lost nearly half its population, it recovered and today is a model for other cities racked by disaster.
Greensburg, Kan., 12 days after being hit by an EF5 tornado in 2007. The twister generated 210 mph winds and killed 11 people. Although the city lost nearly half its population, it recovered and today is a model for other cities racked by disaster.

A 2007 EF5 tornado that nearly wiped out the village of Greensburg, Kansas and a 2008 flood that spilled over the 500-year floodplain in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provided valuable lessons to any community that finds itself in crisis.

Bob Dixon was elected mayor of Greensburg, population 777, in 2008 about a year after the 1.7-mile-wide tornado destroyed nearly every building in the community, including his own house. The city’s population was more than 1,500 prior to the storm.

“The concept of resiliency meant nothing to me until May 4, 2007 at 9:40 at night,” Dixon recalled. “Ninety-five percent of our community was leveled to the ground and turned to rubble, and the other five percent was severely damaged.”

The city took a direct hit from the tornado, which generated winds of 210 mph, killing 11 people.

Dixon joined Christine Butterfield, the community development director for the city of Cedar Rapids, in sharing insights at the conference. The panel also included Steve Castaner, branch chief of community recovery with Region VII of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Doug Kluck, central region climate services director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Butterfield became community development director in 2007, just seven months before the Cedar River overflowed its banks on June 13, 2008. The flood inundated a two-mile wide swath through the heart of the city, covering 1,400 city blocks with nearly 32 feet of muddy water. It was by far the worst flood in the city’s history, exceeding the previous record by 12 feet.

Butterfield said the flood engulfed the city’s downtown where many of its primary employers are located, and 5,900 homes had to be evacuated. “We had about 22,000 residents that were displaced and 900 businesses that were impacted,” she said. “The value of the damage was estimated at $7 billion.”

Making matters worse, 310 city facilities were caught in the deluge, including city hall and the public works building. The county courthouse was also damaged.

With 14 percent of its land mass under water, the city of 126,000 people was rocked to its core.

A common theme expressed by Dixon, Butterfield and Castaner was that a community destroyed by disaster can turn tragedy into an opportunity to build a better, more resilient city rather than just restoring the community to the way it was before the event.

“There is never a better opportunity to change systems, perspectives or mindsets than when a disaster hits,” Castaner said. “Once you get past the trauma, the hurting, the loss of either possessions or family and friends, there are real opportunities to change the mindsets and perspectives community-wide for a better, more resilient future.”

Contrary to what a lot of people think, Castaner said, FEMA does not tell communities what to do.

“We may advise them on what the impacts of their decisions might be on funding, insurance or other things, but we never tell a community what to do,” he said. “We don’t know all the answers, but we have the role of bringing partners to the table who can help communities look at alternatives and opportunities after a disaster.”

Some of those resources include services provided by the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, other state and federal agencies and numerous nonprofit organizations, he said.

Dixon said it was public/private partnerships and the determination of the people of Greensburg that allowed his town to rebuild and recover.

“Too many times, post disaster, communities think they’re entitled; that the state and federal government is going to come and make them whole. Ladies and gentlemen, that doesn’t happen,” Dixon said. “In America, we’re entitled to the opportunity to achieve. You pull all the resources to the table at the time you need them, and that’s what happened in Greensburg.”

Dixon cautioned against making major decisions too rapidly after a disaster. “You’re in an emotional state of mind. You’re going to doom yourself to what got you in this situation. Systematic problems will continue,” he said.

“Is your community resilient prior to disaster,” Dixon asked. “Are you sustainable? Do you have the ability to endure? Are you doing things for future generations? Are you smart, prudent and responsible in everything you do in your community? Do you have those public/private partnerships and work together?

“If you have that prior to disaster, you’re going to come out on the back side of that disaster in great shape,” he said.

“You have to be adaptive and willing to change; and willing to listen to every idea that’s out there.”

Castaner, who was part of the FEMA team that helped Cedar Rapids and Greensburg through their recoveries, said Cedar Rapids broke new ground by aggressively planning during the restoration and recovery process. He said the state of Iowa helped that process by giving the city time to develop those plans, while some other states often give their local communities restrictive funding windows that force reconstruction to begin before solid planning has had a chance to take place.

When the water receded, the Cedar Rapids City Council organized around the concept that restoring the damaged properties would not be enough. The disaster recovery plan had to provide protections from future flood events. Rather than sit back and wait for direction from state and federal agencies, Butterfield said the city government took ownership of the challenge.

“There is a real lack of clarity on the role of government in response and recovery,” she said. “Understanding where one agency’s role ends and another agency’s role begins is a critical part of resiliency.”

Communicating with other cities that had recovered from similar disasters provided a laundry list of best practices and things to avoid, Butterfield said.

An immediate concern was reining in the massive influx of building contractors and homeowners eager to repair their damaged properties. Butterfield said the city shut down any non-essential services and repurposed all available staff to help conduct background checks and issue special permits to contractors, taking great care to prevent citizens from being swindled.

The city engaged more than 3,000 residents in a four-month community dialog to develop a plan for recovery and protection from future floods.

“They said, ‘We want to retain our neighborhoods, but we also want to provide more room for the river to flow,’” Butterfield said.

After receiving input from the public, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and about 11 different consulting groups, city staff developed a flood protection plan that was approved by the council in November of 2008. The plan was a combination of structural and non-structural measures to safeguard the city. Developing the plan was a lot of work, but implementing it would prove exhausting.

In order to complete 10 neighborhood redevelopment plans in four months, the community development team surveyed other cities, developed a set of best practices, and held eight more public meetings.

“We asked the community and business owners how they wanted to see housing recover, how they wanted to see businesses recover, where did they want to see them located, how would it be integrated with flood protection, including flood walls and levees, and how did they want to ensure the community was stronger once it was implemented?”

In May of 2009, 11 months after the flood, the council approved the development plans and the recovery of Cedar Rapids began to take shape.

In tiny Greensburg, getting input from community stakeholders was easy.

“We were all homeless – the whole community. So it was very easy when FEMA came and put us up a big tent on the east side of town. We’d have 4 or 5 hundred people show up at community meetings and planning sessions facilitating a long-term recovery plan. Everybody was listened to and provided an opportunity to be heard. … It’s about conversation and collaboration; listening to everybody, even people in those CAVE organizations (citizens against virtually everything) that every community has. There are some good nuggets and ideas in what they have to say. Listen to them.”

In hindsight, the disasters in Cedar Rapids and Greensburg, combined with Hurricane Katrina and other storms of the past decade, seem to have marked the beginning of a gradually escalating problem: The increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as a consequence of climate change. While climate and weather data clearly validate that presumption, they can’t predict exactly where and when the next major event will occur, said NOAA’s Kluck. He said governing bodies need to make sure their policies stay up to date with changing realities.

“It’s very hard to build resiliency with laws and policies that were written in the 40s and 50s that may not even be realistic,” Kluck said. He used the example of the Colorado River, where water allotments were decided as far back as the 1920s, a time when precipitation and snow melt far exceeded that of recent years.

Kluck said local governments can get a wealth of information about local climate and weather conditions on three federal web sites: drought.gov, weather.gov and climate.gov.

For Dixon, the role of government is to prepare communities in advance to be resilient in the face of disaster.

“Are you operating in your community as crisis managers, or visionary managers? We’re all good at putting out fires. But those fires will keep coming if you don’t have a vision and a commitment to a brighter tomorrow; to address those systematic problems that keep coming up.”

Source: http://www.sustainablecitynetwork.com/topic_channels/environmental/article_d557c1ee-c33e-11e2-986d-0019bb30f31a.html

Related Video: http://youtu.be/08PM3YEqBcE

Global Leaders Converge In New York to Discuss Sustainable Cities

Top leaders from the business community, government, and academia joined renowned columnists for an in-depth discussion of issues facing urban communities at the April 25, 2013, New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference: Building Sustainable Cities. Against the backdrop of climate change and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the conference addressed holistically how to improve urban planning and resiliency.


New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg opened the conference citing accomplishments against PlaNYC, a strategic initiative to “prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers.” Mr. Bloomberg, who also chairs C40, a network of large cities across the globe that are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, noted that buildings and the energy they use are responsible for 80 percent of the city’s carbon footprint, compared to 20 percent from transportation. Commenting on the importance of public-private partnerships to tackle environmental challenges, the mayor also noted the city’s Food Waste Challenge, an effort to divert discarded restaurant food from landfills to recycling. Speaking on a similar theme was Jeremy Irons, actor and executive producer of Trashed, a documentary film on the enormous problem of global waste disposal. Other conference topics discussed included: the technological, legal, and regulatory aspects of autonomous “self-driving” vehicles; energy efficiency and green buildings; developing a more sustainable urban food supply; alternative modes of transportation including vehicles propelled by electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, and natural gas, as well as bike sharing programs and bus rapid transit; and the economic costs associated with becoming more sustainable. The conference program notably covered a number of areas where the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is actively engaged, including:

Fort Lauderdale To Host Rising Seas Summit For Coastal Cities

The inaugural Rising Seas Summit will bring professionals from national and local government, industry, academic institutions and environmental NGOs together to highlight the interrelationships between sea level rise, climate change and extreme events. Understanding, anticipating, adapting and surviving water-related threats is critical to national security and a stable economy.


Sea level rise will continue to damage coastal ecosystems and inland water systems, and the recent catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Sandy have demonstrated the risks faced by all coastal communities on the U.S. eastern seaboard. These new environmental challenges require that stakeholders share knowledge and work together to reduce and mitigate environmental and social degradation induced by climate change.

The Rising Seas Summit is co-presented by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA.


  • A primer on sea level rise, including drivers, projections and implications;
  • Analyses of recent reports published by the GAO, Army Corps of Engineers, National Climate Assessment and National Academies;
  • Modeling and planning for sea level rise;
  • Assessing risks to transportation infrastructure and developing resilience plans;
  • Case studies from domestic and international communities already adapting to sea level rise;
  • Quantifying the short-term and long-term economic implications; and
  • Managing risks related to more frequent and significant extreme events.

For the latest program information, including speaker details and schedule, please visit www.SeaLevelRiseSummit.org.

For More Information:

Company: Association of Climate Change Officers
Name: Melissa Lembke
Email: mlembke@ACCOonline.org
Phone: 202-496-7390
Website: 2013 Rising Seas Summit