Smart Cities Council Launched to Promote Smart, Sustainable Cities

Sustainable Cities Network

Cities around the world are under pressure. Budgets are tight. Growth is necessary. Demands and costs are escalating. Extreme weather is taking its toll. Efficiency and sustainability are priorities, but where should they start to balance the moving pieces? Civic leaders have a new resource in the fight to achieve prosperity and sustainability. More than a dozen top technology firms have formed the Smart Cities Council to provide cities with tools and best practices that can guide them in the right direction and save them time and money.

Greener Cities network

Operating under the theme “Livability, Workability, Sustainability,” the Council has gathered the world’s foremost firms in areas such as smart energy, water and transportation. These firms, which make up the Council’s Steering Committee, include Alstom, AT&T, Bechtel, Cisco, Electricite de France, General Electric, IBM, Itron, Microsoft, National Grid, Qualcomm, and S&C Electric.

In addition to lead partners, the Council’s associate partners include ABB, Alphinat, Grid2020, Invensys, MaxWest Environmental Systems, Opower, and Zipcar (a division of Avis).

According to Itron, the Smart Cities Council was formed to help address the unprecedented challenges facing the world’s cities, including accelerated population growth and constrained resources. The council aims to equip city leaders with fresh approaches to policy, governance, development and technology that enable long-term livability, workability and sustainability. Of course, resilience is an important part of the equation as well.

“People have built communities around energy and water for ages. Past generations have extracted more energy or more water to accommodate growing populations. This is simply not possible given the scale and urgency of today’s challenges. We must be more strategic, more resourceful and more innovative than ever before,” says Russ Vanos, Itron’s senior vice president of strategy and business development.

Mayors and city leaders can tap into this global hub to develop a comprehensive and collaborative road map for their city, to gain advice on the most effective ways to move forward, and to compare notes with like-minded leaders.

“All over the world, rapid urbanization is putting enormous stress on city resources and infrastructure,” explained founding Chairman Jesse Berst. “Cities are at a crossroads; many are nearing the point at which they could easily become overwhelmed by issues related to crime, congestion, and public health and safety. To prevent this, cities can use smart technologies to not just manage problems, but to usher in a new era of prosperity and sustainability.”

A “smart city” uses digital technology to deliver better, more efficient services to its citizens. It enables access to information via data collected from devices and sensors that are embedded in roadways, energy and water infrastructure, buildings and more. For example, smart power and water grids improve efficiency and reliability, as well as provide customers with detailed information to help them reduce their bills. For another example, a smart transportation network optimizes multi-modal travel throughout the city with real-time bus updates, taxi locations, and the ability to reserve parking spots.

Thousands of smart city projects are underway around the globe, but major hurdles remain. Cities have significant questions and challenges with regard to the four chief barriers of technology, financing, policy, and citizen engagement.

World’s first collaborative smart city guide

The Council was formed to lower these barriers to adoption through education, outreach, and tools for cities. One of the Smart Cities Council’s first initiatives is the development of the Readiness Guide, which will launch as a beta version at the 81st Annual United States Conference of Mayors next month.

The Readiness Guide will be the first collaborative and comprehensive vision of a smart city. It will provide city leaders with a conceptual technology roadmap to address growth strategies in an effective and systemic way, focusing on key issues such as energy, transportation, water, and public safety. The content of the Readiness Guide is greatly influenced by the expertise of the Council’s partners, as well as its Advisory Board, which is made up of independent experts from research, academia, and advocacy.

“Far too many cities are undertaking individual projects without an overall plan, and without considering the ways that different departments can share costs and data,” noted James Whittaker, Executive Director of the Smart Cities Council and a principal in Mercator XXI, a co-founder of the Council. “For the best results, it is essential to have a comprehensive, holistic vision — yet no such help exists today. The Readiness Guide is the first-ever collaborative, comprehensive resource.”

The Council also has initiatives underway to address financing, policy, and citizen engagement. To accomplish these important but challenging tasks, the Council has marshaled the world’s leading authorities. “It takes an ecosystem to build a smart city,” said Berst. “We salute our member organizations. They have demonstrated that they are not just leaders in innovation, but — equally important — in collaboration.”

About Smart Cities Council

The Smart Cities Council is comprised of the foremost experts and leading global companies in the smart technologies sector, who serve as advisors and resources. Its goal is to accelerate the growth of smart cities worldwide by providing city leaders with access to financial tools, policy frameworks, visibility campaigns, and advocacy. For more information, visit

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:, and

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.”


Related Video:

Many Companies Will Benefit From Investment In Greener Cities

$350 Trillion Investment In New Urban Development By 2040. Even More Spent On Regeneration and Retrofitting Existing Cities.

Never before have the world’s cities faced such a daunting combination of challenges, or required such technological creativity to solve them. Cities are at a crossroads. While 50 percent of the world currently lives in cities, by 2050 that figure will be nearly 70 percent.

Unless radically different ways of living emerge quickly, many cities will be environmental disasters, plagued by over-crowding, squalor, and disease. As it is, cities currently consume 75 percent of the world’s resources and account for a similar percentage of all CO2 emissions.BeFunky_green citypeople.jpg

Avoiding ecological disasters and their impact on society is why the smart city movement has sprung up over the past decade. Though there is variation in how the phrase “smart city” is interpreted, broadly speaking it is about harnessing technology to transform urban infrastructure. The goal is to make better use of energy and resources and in doing so to improve the lives of citizens. A whole ecosystem of information technologists, social biologists, economists, engineers, urban planners, and many other experts from medical, manufacturing, and architectural disciplines have coalesced around a smart city vision that offers a radical new approach to urban living. Governments and city officers everywhere are keen to see what this approach can do for them, not only in terms of the environment but also to help them better compete in the global battle to attract and create new businesses. In other words, this huge challenge is creating a business bonanza.

Examples of smart city projects around the world are plentiful:

Amsterdam and San Francisco are using Urban, an interactive Web service created by network equipment supplier Cisco that displays environmental footprints, broken down by postal code, in order to raise awareness and build community activity around emission reduction.

• In Cambridge, UK, the city council is looking at smart city applications for rubbish bin collection. The bins will send signals when full, and the collecting carts can plan the most fuel-efficient routes.

• Again in England, the Birmingham city council is working with IBM to develop a strategic decision-making tool to support citywide planning on future investment decisions. The city is one of a hundred Smart City Money Makers municipalities to which IBM is awarding a total of $50 million worth of technology and services in its Smarter Cities Challenge program. Says IBM: “The cities have been selected because of the strong personal commitment by each city’s leadership to put in place the changes needed to help the city make smarter decisions.”

San Francisco has adopted one approach that might be followed by other budding smart cities: Its mayor has appointed a chief innovation officer, whose job is to make sure technology is a driver of change in city government. Numerous electorates in other areas are displaying much greater interest in what their local governments are doing to embrace smartness.

• In Rio de Janeiro, IBM has been working with city officials on a flood and landslide forecasting system, which includes a command center that integrates more than 20 city departments to improve emergency response management. IBM is working with 2,000 cities worldwide on similar systems.

• In Ethiopia, Siemens is helping create a sustainable urban locale called Masdar City, about 6 kilometers from downtown Abu Dhabi. By implementing a power grid combined with advanced building technologies, Siemens, along with MIT, GE, BASF, and other partners, aims to create the cleanest city in the world. These projects typify the smart cities trend. Andrew Comer, director of environment and infrastructure at consulting engineering firm Buro Happold, says: “A key aim is to develop cities that are able to exploit technology and create infrastructure networks that are linked together. This integrated approach will enable greater increases in efficiency and reduce demands on natural resources.”


But as Volker Buscher, director, smart cities, at global consultancy Arup, points out: “Every city has its own context, and no single approach will transform each one into a smart city.”

The Technological Basis of Smart Cities Smart cities deploy advanced information technologies to monitor and respond to every aspect of city life in ways that minimize carbon emissions and maximize quality of life.


Cashing In On Smart Cities

Built on a smart infrastructure grid that senses and responds to the environment in a continuous feedback loop without human intervention, these cities offer the potential to regulate and optimize our energy usage, our traffic movements, our communications, and our ways of doing business. If, for example, a building is generating more heat than it requires or is using more water than its cooler system provides, sensors detect the resource overflow and automatically divert it to other buildings via the urban grid.

Utility suppliers will play a central role in smart cities, with smart metering of water and energy consumption used to gather data that can automatically trigger more efficient usage. Transport systems will also be in the vanguard, with, for example, traffic sensors reacting to temperature changes, directing sand trucks to icy areas or ambulances and police to crash zones.

Currently, a smart city infrastructure is based in part on readily available and relatively low-cost technologies – smartphones, broadband wireless Internet, netbooks and tablets, and smart meters – that improve sharing of data and information. But we are heading toward much greater interconnectivity among many different systems. The goal is an urban nervous system that exploits advanced sensor technologies to feed information to a central “brain,” which then controls fundamental aspects of the city’s behavior and energy usage.

Smart City Technology Innovators

There isn’t a major information technology, engineering, or architectural company in the world that isn’t involved at some level with smart cities. Companies like IBM, Accenture, Siemens, Cisco, Foster, Arup, Gehry, Oracle, O2, Ericsson, Arup, Buro Happold, and many other global names – all have dedicated departments involved with multiple national and local government agencies.

Says Andrew Comer of Buro Happold: “It’s been estimated by Booz & Company that $350 trillion will be spent on new urban development over the next 30 years – and then there’s the regeneration and retrofitting of existing cities as well. If only a small percentage of it is spent on technology the market is huge, hence the interest from the big IT firms.”

ABI Research believes the global market for technologies that support and enable smart cities will grow to more than $39 billion in 2016 – nearly quadrupling the level of $8.1 billion in 2010.

In the Municipality of Paredes in northern Portugal, Living PlanIT, a firm specializing in software solutions for smart cities, plans to build a city of the future by 2015. The company’s Website states: PlanIT Valley will combine intelligent buildings with connected vehicles, while providing its citizens with a higher level of information about their built environment than has been possible previously. Its efficiency will extend into the optimum control of peak electricity demand, adapted traffic management for enhanced mobility, assisted parking, and providing emergency services with the capacity to have priority when needed in the flow of traffic.

Once completed, PlanIT Valley will serve as a “living laboratory” and showcase for the solutions created by Living PlanIT and its partners. Steve Lewis, founder and CEO of Living PlanIT, became involved with property development in 2004 and was shocked by the inefficiencies of real estate and construction. He studied engineering and manufacturing processes in the aviation and automotive industries, and came up with insights that underpin his company’s approach to building smart cities. The Living PlanIT platform is the Urban Operating System (UOS), which supports middleware, networked sensors, and applications created by Living PlanIT and its partners for city environments. Lewis, who’s worked at IBM and Microsoft, believes he can use this technology to build office blocks for 35 percent less than the present rates. He sells the smart city concept to real estate developers by highlighting the increased property values that will follow. He estimates that $15 trillion will be spent on IT in retrofitting existing cities over the next 15 to 20 years.

Lewis explains that this growth is being accelerated by machine-to-machine, or M2M, networking. Far more robust than the current Internet, this kind of smart-city infrastructure can be relied upon to transfer highly sensitive and complex data without the risk of losing connectivity. Lewis compares the move to M2M to the transport transition from horses to steam engines. Living PlanIT’s business model is partly predicated on licensing apps to developers and corporations, which then incorporate them into their own operations. After six years in business, Living PlanIT claims annual sales exceeding £1.5 billion (more than US$2 billion).


Obstacles to Smart City Deployment

According to Volker Buscher of Arup, on a scale of 1 to 10, we are probably only at level 3 or 4 down the smart city route. There’s a whole host of issues and barriers to be overcome, including a lack of political impetus and leadership; difficulty getting machines to talk to each other; and the central issue of funding. Many of the trial projects that prove that smarter cities can deliver improved outcomes have included substantial funding from research. The financial and commercial models that would justify investment from government and other sources are still largely missing.

While new smart cities understandably attract much of the media limelight, states Martin Powell, head of urban development at Siemens: “The real challenge is looking at the existing big cities and retrofitting them. This is much trickier.”

The infrastructure of established cities, of course, complicates the processes involved in laying down smart grids. Many more groups and individuals are party to the development, and not all of them wish to cooperate, for a variety of reasons. Politicians may listen to the objectors more than to the advocates. And as Powell says: “The thinking in creating smart cities has to be long term, but politicians often have more short-term priorities.”

Dave Fitch, a smart cities consultant at Dere-Street Research, who has worked on some of the major smart city projects in the UK, says that it’s essential that politicians have a vision of where they want cities to go: Technological leadership will not develop a smart city – we need a vision of what we want from our future cities, which means clear policies on issues such as cars versus public transport. Too often, infrastructure and change management are dirty terms… And sometimes people at the top aren’t equipped to take these decisions, or they fear their decision-making will be challenged by the radical changes that smart cities deliver to their citizens.

Another major challenge to be overcome is data privacy. Andrew Comer at Buro Happold says there are serious questions to be asked about governance of smart cities: Who owns the data generated and gathered through the smart grids? Who can use it? What security and safety measures are put in place? And who benefits – is it the private investors who fund the infrastructure, or the citizens or the municipality? Ideally, all should benefit, and those benefits will be significant if we can get it right. The potential for systemic privacy infringement is a concern that smart city planners are addressing. Steve Lewis at Living PlanIT, for instance, claims his company has found a way to electronically “cloak” users of smart-city networks. Some might fear that techniques like these could mean putting cities at the mercy of proprietary systems. But spokespeople from Siemens, IBM, and other vendors say that succeeding in the smart cities field will require cooperation.

“Open architecture is the direction of travel,” says Rick Robinson, an IBM executive architect. He compares the integration required for smart city technology to integrating Websites in the early days of the Internet.

Steve Lewis shares a similar view: The old way of “screw you, this is the system” can’t be the way forward. It’s got to be an open-data format. Of course we have trade secrets – it’s how we earn. But trying to stuff one system down other people’s throats does not allow inclusivity or future integration, and that’s essential to the interoperability smart cities rely upon.

Advocates of smart cities also point to the problem of fusing infrastructure with technology – where infrastructure has 100-year life spans and technology only a few years. Comer says it will be necessary to design smart-city infrastructure in a modular fashion: It requires an approach that allows cities or developers to “unplug and replace” systems – a capability for “unhooking” whole parts of networks or systems and replacing them with new models that are more efficient.

Smart Cities Need Smart Money

The biggest challenge to smart city deployments may be funding. Some analysts have questioned the smart city business model, claiming that several developments to date are vanity projects with no visible return on investment. Planet Valley in Portugal is at least a year behind schedule because of the collapse of the bond market in 2007/8; and Masdar has also experienced funding problems. Both projects, however, have put these stumbles behind them, and Lewis and Powell both detect a strong appetite from lenders, despite the global recession. “Banks like risk, and smart cities offer a range of different risk levels,” says Lewis.

But Comer points to the creation of value in hard monetary terms as still a major obstacle: There is no evidence yet of return on investment. If we cannot answer the ROI question, we are expecting investors to take risks in a climate when risk is still not a particularly attractive option. Smart Cities should be able to operate on reduced operational costs, and there should also be other benefits, such as spinoff industries on the back of access to large data sets, asset value-protection through greater resilience and future-proofing, etc. All those things should generate value – but we need the evidence, and, as a consultant, it is our role to provide that evidence – but at the moment it’s a step-by-step process.

Smart cities are gathering momentum, but it may be awhile before that propels the many projects now underway into a general move toward more innovative and future-focused urbanization.

—   By Denise Chevin, with additional reporting by Andrew Pring


Philanthropists Will Convene in Copenhagen to Discuss Sustainable Cities

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. In the next 30 years, more than one billion more people will become urban dwellers. This rapid growth in urbanization poses a great challenge for the future cities when it comes to housing, employment, education, mobility, urban planning and the environment. New ideas, new solutions and innovation that can help us ensure a sustainable urban future are thus in high demand.

BeFunky_green city2.jpg
By the end of this month, some 500 hundred philanthropists will convene in Copenhagen to discuss in which way the philanthropic sector can and should play a role in ensuring the sustainable cities of tomorrow. The conference, hosted by EFC, will cover a wide range of societal, social and environmental challenges that the cities of today are facing. During the three-day conference the participants will share knowledge and discuss new ways of working, new partnerships and new ways of measuring philanthropic impact that hopefully will open the door to a more active and visible philanthropic sector when it comes to creating a future sustainable society.

This meeting could signal a new beginning. Currently, the future of the world is stuck in no man’s land — who has the responsibility to find the necessary solutions to the world’s growing challenges? The lacking outcome of the many meetings in G8 and G20 serve as great examples of the power vacuum that exists in this area. While our future continues to look more and more gloomy, our leaders seem more and more apathetic. Governments but also companies mostly focus on short term results e.g. the next election or the next quarterly report. Meanwhile, the knowledge institutions keep their heads in the books focusing on testing long term hypothesis.

Thus, we are currently in desperate need of new change-makers — of innovative catalysts that are able to shake things up, create a new momentum and take responsibility for solving the growing social and environmental challenges that the world is facing.

Hoping that the foundations could become a new kind of change maker is not an unrealistic dream. The coming meeting bears witness to a significant change, which in recent years has created a stir in the entire philanthropic sector. Around the world, a number of front running philanthropists are moving forward and taking upon a new role as catalysts for major social changes. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and David Rockefeller have set new standards, created progress and solutions that have given the concept of philanthropy a renaissance. In this new form of philanthropy, philanthropists no longer see themselves as generous donors, but as catalytic partners, who take responsibility for putting complex challenges on the agenda. The name of this new philanthropic approach is catalytic philanthropy.

Catalytic philanthropy holds great potentials as a vehicle for great and very much needed change. Especially in a time where both public and private funds are in deficit and the debate about the world’s growing problems has taken more than a few serious hits. In this gloomy atmosphere, the catalytic foundations represent a much needed group of new players that can help rethink and revitalize the way we talk and act upon the world’s greatest challenges. This is crucial if we are to hope for a profound progress in the acceleration of a more sustainable transition in the coming years.

In regards to creating new solutions that can lead us towards a sustainable future, we can allow ourselves to expect great things from the philanthropic sector. They are independent and have a long-term horizon, financial resources and a focus on doing good. The special DNA of the foundations gives them a unique opportunity to take risks, drive experiments and focus on innovation because they are not as politicians subject to the short-term political pressures of elections nor as the private sector obliged to achieve economic returns. This gives foundations the freedom to engage in more uncertain and experimental projects, where success is not a foregone conclusion. They thus bring a unique set of competencies to the table when it comes to driving change and finding new sustainable models.

But when it comes to take on the role as change agents in development of solutions for large, complex societal challenges, not one, two or three foundations will have near enough power and capital to do so. Although several foundations, which currently work with catalytic philanthropy, have billions on their bank accounts, their fortunes will not last long when it comes to tackling challenges such as sustainability, poverty and urbanization. An example: Although the total donations from philanthropic foundations in the United States in 2011 reached $41 billion, it would only be enough to cover the country’s public spending for four days.

The foundations cannot achieve immense results by acting on their own and this is why the catalytic approach is so interesting. Catalytic philanthropy it is not about how much you give, but how you give. The catalytic foundations have realized that they can make a big difference, not by writing checks, but by offering their competencies, network and way of thinking as a new form of capital. By doing so, they bring forth innovative capital that opens the door to great changes and improvements in society. Imagine what change we could gain from 100 philanthropists thinking and working as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or David Rockefeller.

Despite the positive trends, the catalytic approach is still a model pursued by only a limited group within the philanthropic sector. Today, only about 10 percent of the American foundations are basing their work on catalytic philanthropy. The philanthropic sector as a whole remains at a modest stage of development in terms of being catalysts for bigger social changes. Thus the philanthropic sector’s potential is much bigger. Many foundations have the ability and the means to choose the catalytic path and by doing so generate greater value from their fortunes in terms of doing good. It is important that the foundations take on this responsibility. There is a growing need in society for new agents of change, but also a self-interest for the foundations, because the catalytic approach represents a driver for increasing the outcome of their investments and work — and thereby helping foundations fulfill their mission of doing good.

The coming EFC meeting represents a good option for more foundations to take upon the role as the new change makers — to initiate and commit themselves to having bigger and more ambitious goals when it comes to making a difference. If they do so, it could have core shaking influence on societies around the world. This could open the door to a new momentum, where the foundations play the role as the innovative force we have been waiting for in solving the growing global challenges and getting closer to the sustainable society of tomorrow.

From May 30 to June 1, 2013, some 500 foundations and partners will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark for the 24th EFC Annual General Assembly and Conference, entitled “Sustainable Cities: Foundations and our urban future.” Read more about the conference here.


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:

Sustainable Infrastructure Key To Growth

“To date, the trend towards urbanization has been accompanied by increased pressure on the environment and growing numbers of urban poor,” said the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, Achim Steiner, at the launch of the report in Nairobi, Kenya.

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.

“But unique opportunities exist for cities to lead the greening of the global economy by increasing resource productivity and innovation, while achieving major financial savings and addressing environmental challenges,” Steiner said.

The report, ‘City-Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions,’ argues that sustainable city infrastructures can sustain economic growth while using fewer resources.

Around three-quarters of the world’s natural resources are already consumed in cities, and the proportion of the global population living in urban areas is set to rise to 70 per cent by 2050.

The study says much greater effort is needed to support new and improved infrastructure for water, energy, transport, waste and other sectors – generally located in and around cities – to wean the world off unsustainable consumption patterns, and avoid serious economic and environmental implications for future generations.

The report, which was produced by the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP), features 30 case studies around the world that show how sustainable infrastructures have created scores of green jobs and reduced environmental degradation.

Fore example, in Melbourne, Australia, carbon emissions dropped by 40 per cent after the introduction of energy efficiency measures in public buildings, while in Cape Town, South Africa, a re-fit of low income housing with solar water heaters and efficient lighting has saved over 6,500 tonnes of carbon per year, cut respiratory illnesses by 75 per cent, and reduced the cost of hot water for poor households.

Other efforts involve reducing oil consumption by moving more people and goods onto public transport powered by electricity, or re-establishing urban farms to supply locally grown food.

The cost of meeting the urban infrastructure requirements of the world’s cities between 2000 and 2030 is estimated at USD 40 trillion – both through the building of new infrastructure or retrofitting existing facilities, the report states.

“Older cities may have to retrofit and replace inefficient infrastructure into which they have been locked for decades to achieve decoupling, but newer and expanding cities have the advantage of flexibility. They can ‘get it right’ the first time,” said the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Joan Clos.

“In an era of rising energy prices, an early transition to systems that consume increasingly cheaper renewable energy sources will pay off quickly,” Clos said.

The report also provides recommendations for city planners to minimize environmental damage and maximize the potential for using resources more sustainably.

Melbourne Now A Carbon-Neutral City

Melbourne is now a carbon-neutral city, as certified by the Australian government’s independent carbon offsetting authority.

In an effort to become one of the world’s sustainable and liveable cities, Victoria’s capital has reduced and offset its carbon emissions, meeting the National Carbon Offset Standard set by Low Carbon Australia.


“We’re already one of the world’s most liveable cities, our challenge now is to ensure we are one of the world’s most sustainable cities,” said environment portfolio chair councilor Arron Wood.

At the core of Melbourne’s ambition to be a Zero Net Emissions metropolitan by 2020 are four areas where significant reductions have to made. These include the commercial sector with 25 percent less emissions from business-as-usual levels; the residential sector with 20 percent; the public transport sector with 20 percent, of which 15 percent fewer emissions will come from cars along with 100 percent increase in bicycle use; and the power sector with 18 percent from energy production.

To meet these targets, the City of Melbourne has been working with commercial building owners and apartment residents to lessen their water and energy use, and better manage waste and recycling. It is also helping businesses to enhance their buildings’ energy efficiency through the 1200 Buildings programme and generate fund renovations through Environmental Upgrade Agreements.

Furthermore, the city is encouraging “green” transportation such as bike networking and walking to prevent pollution from cars, as well as the use of low carbon and renewable energy sources for public transport.

According to Low Carbon Australia’s chief executive officer Meg McDonald, Melbourne’s carbon neutrality is a “remarkable milestone in its journey towards sustainability.”

“Quantifying the carbon footprint of such an organization and reducing carbon emissions is a mammoth task, but one that can have substantial benefits for the environment, the city and for ratepayers.”

Ms. McDonald said the city is also working to ensure it operates more efficiently, reducing wastage and encouraging more sustainable business practices.

Melbourne now joins Sydney, as well as two other Victorian cities – Yarra and Moreland – as having earned carbon neutral status based on the National Carbon Offset Standard, according to a Government report.

The C40, a network of megacities worldwide, suggested that cities account for 60 percent to 80 percent of the world’s energy and are responsible for more than 70 percent of carbon emissions.

As rapid urbanization continues to occur over the coming years, cities could also provide ideal solution to address climate change by making them sustainable initiatives such as energy, water and food efficiency; waste output, water and air pollution reduction; greenhouse gas emissions cuts.


China & UK Swap Sustainability Capabilities

Solving the energy and natural resource demands of a growing global population will take international cooperation at the highest levels. China and the United Kingdom are advancing that agenda now.

BeFunky_green cityA delegation of 10 UK companies was welcomed this week on the opening leg of the 2013 Sustainable Cities Mission to Chongqing and Changsha.

The mission program put together by the UK Trade and Investment team gave the 10 companies a platform to showcase their products and expertise in low carbon, sustainable construction and water sectors to a VIP audience of local government and industry.

The mission was opened by Consul General Simon Lever and the Leader of the Chongqing Urban-Rural Development Commission Zhang Qin, with a reflection on the recent development of Chongqing and its prospects for the future. Presentations on the Yuelai Eco Town and Jiangbeizui Central Business District of the Liangjiang State Level Development Zone warmed the UK participants to the extent of opportunities available in fast-growing Chongqing; after which the UK missioners, from recently established small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to Fortune-500 global giants, introduced their companies, their products and their expertise to the Urban-Rural Development Commission, Chongqing Real Estate Association, local design institutes and over 30 local companies in the audience. An afternoon Round Table event provided an opportunity for more detailed discussions and mutual expressions of interest in future business cooperation.

The mission received warm welcome from Ba’nan District government leaders on 19 March, who led the mission to the site of the Yangchun Wet-land Park project site along the Yangtze River. Ba’nan occupies 1825 km2, the largest and one of Chongqing’s most active districts in urban development, and leaders expressed their hope that an experienced company can take on the job of planning and design for the Wetland Park, a place they are sure will be Chongqing’s next top destination. Consul-General Simon Lever and Party Secretary of Ba’nan Li Jianchun agreed that there are many opportunities for UK and Chongqing do business together in the foreseeable future.

On their Beibei District visit the same day, the delegation met with the Deputy Governor and local key players in low-carbon development. They exchanged views on helping Beibei develop into a modern, liveable and green city.

Following the mission, Head of Trade and Investment Simon Mellon said:

Chongqing is a city with an impressive history and a bright future, still experiencing double digit GDP growth and projected to grow by over 400% by 2025. This growth, and the demographic changes taking place across China, provides a wealth of opportunity for British companies to be a part of the next stage of Chongqing’s ongoing development.

In the coming month, the British Consulate-General Chongqing will lead well-known British companies in architecture to participate in the 6th City Expo in Chongqing. A zero-carbon pavilion will be built for the Expo by British architects ALL Design. In June, members of the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) will visit Chongqing. All those events will bring more creativity and impetus to Chongqing’s sustainable future.

Sustainability Guidelines For Cities

New York City (courtesy of Friends of Moynihan Station)

By Kaid Benfield

Achieving the right city density to support sustainable cities and a high quality of life is one of the trickiest problems we face as we address the future of our communities.  The typically low densities of suburban sprawl built in the last half of the 20th century, despite their popularity at the time with a considerable share of the market, have been shown by a voluminous body of research to produce unsustainable rates of driving, carbon emissions, pollution, stormwater runoff, and adverse health impacts.

Yet the highest densities can bring their own set of problems, including noise, traffic and even pedestrian congestion (perhaps more a matter of pleasantry than environmental problems per se), local hotspots of runoff and air pollution, and loss of contact with nature, among others.  I’ve argued repeatedly that, if we want market preferences to continue trending in the direction of walkable sustainability, we must be more sensitive to these concerns.  Finding the right density and accompanying urban features for the right place is critical.

To an extent, this is what the new urbanist transect is about.  I have my issues with the lower-density parts of the transect and with the extent of prescriptiveness in some of the zoning codes it has spawned, but frankly neither the environmental community nor smart growth advocates have even attempted to sort this out.

Seattle (by

I’m not sure it is fair for us to criticize the best of the answers that is out there so far without coming up with a better alternative.  Indeed, the bulk of our advocacy seems limited to “density + transit + mixed-use + bike lanes + making driving and parking less attractive”; more of each is always better; and the rest is someone else’s problem.

I don’t see it that way.  In truth, we need more sophisticated and nuanced answers.  They may be elusive and often site-specific, but they are also critical to building a better world for our children, ourselves, and the planet.

Something to bear in mind in our search for those answers is that the same research showing low-density sprawl to be horrible for rates of driving, emissions, and runoff also shows diminishing returns in improving those rates after moderately high densities are reached.  And relatively high-density places can still be unsustainable sprawl, depending on the context.  Myself, I tend to prefer incremental and moderate increases to density in the places that are not already sufficiently dense, and accompanying those increases with important mitigation of density’s local impacts.

former laneway in Singapore (by: bricoleururbanism, creative commons)All that said, there are cities and districts that are and will be truly high-density by almost anyone’s definition.  What are the things we should include to make those places as sustainable and hospitable as possible?  The Urban Land Institute, an industry association and think tank, has come up with some answers.  The following are from ULI’s recently released report, 10 Principles for Livable, High-Density Cities:

  1. Plan for long-term growth and renewal –“A highly dense city usually does not have much choice but to make efficient use of every square inch of its scarce land.  Yet city planners need to do this in a way that does not make the city feel cramped and unlivable.”
  2. Embrace diversity, foster inclusiveness – “There is a need to ensure that diversity is not divisive, particularly in densely populated cities where people live in close proximity to one another.”
  3. Draw nature closer to people – “Blending nature into the city helps soften the hard edges of a highly built up cityscape and provides the city dwellers pockets of respite from the bustle of urban life.”  green neighborhood, Singapore (by: Jerry Wong/xcode, creative commons)The report cites Singapore, whose Centre for Livable Cities co-sponsored the report, as a dense city that has adopted “a strategy of pervasive greenery” and “transform[ed] its parks and water bodies into lifestyle spaces for community activities . . . Nearly half of Singapore is now under green cover, which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also improves the air quality and mitigates heat from the tropical sun.”
  4. Develop affordable, mixed-use neighborhoods – “The ease of living in a compact neighborhood that is relatively self-contained can add to the pleasure of city living.  With density, it becomes more cost effective to provide common amenities.”
  5. Make public spaces work harder – Often, parcels of land that adjoin or surround the city’s infrastructure are dormant, empty spaces . . . The idea is to make all space, including infrastructural spaces, serve multiple uses and users.”
  6. Prioritize green transport and building options – “An overall reduction in energy consumption and dependence adds to city sustainability.”
  7. Relieve density with variety and add green boundaries – “A high-density city need not be all about closely packed high-rise buildings. Singapore intersperses high-rise with low-rise buildings, creating a skyline with more character and reducing the sense of being in a crowded space.”
  8. Activate spaces for greater safety – “Having a sense of safety and security is an important quality-of-life factor.”  school playground in Singapore (by: Mr. Dew, creative commons)Cities should improve visual access to public spaces to maintain “eyes on the street” and help keep neighborhoods safe.
  9. Promote innovative and non-conventional solutions –“As a city gets more populated and built up, it starts facing constraints on land and resources, and has to often look at non-traditional solutions to get around the challenges.  To ensure sufficient water, Singapore developed reclaimed water under the brand name NEWater-to drinking and industrial standards.”
  10. Forge “3P” (people, public, private) partnerships – “With land parcels in close proximity to one another, the effects of development in one area are likely to be felt quickly and acutely in neighboring sites.  The city government and all stakeholders need to work together to ensure they are not taking actions that would reduce the quality of life for others.”

ULI says that the ten principles in the publication were developed during two workshops hosted in 2012 by the Singapore Centre for Livable Cities and ULI Asia Pacific, bringing together 62 thought leaders, experts and practitioners from different disciplines related to urban planning and development.


Kaid Benfield: Director, Sustainable Communities, NRDC; co-founder, LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system; co-founder, Smart Growth America coalition; author, Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), Green Community (contributing author; APA Planners Press 2009);

Innovative Urban Planning in Singapore

As competition for resources increases and urban populations expand, Singapore embraces sustainable development.

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 has been a model for urban efficiency for years. Cities around the world can learn a great deal from this city state.

Cities cover just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet consume about 75 percent of the world’s resources, and given that more of the world’s population now live in cities than in rural areas, it’s clear they are key to tackling climate change and reducing resource use.

Urban administrators face huge challenges to make cities more sustainable. From traffic jams and inefficient buildings to social inequality and housing, the problems are complex and hard to tackle — but not insurmountable.

Some cities are forging ahead with the use of innovative urban planning, technological and governance models, showing that with the right focus and resources, cities can become smarter and more sustainable.

According to the latest Siemens’ Green City Index for Asia, Singapore is the best-performing city in the region, when measured against a range of sustainability criteria.

“Singapore is at the leading edge of sustainability,” says Nicholas You, chairman of the World Urban Campaign Steering Committee at UN-Habitat. “It’s an island state with limited resources so it had no choice but to go green if it wanted to survive economically.”

Singapore’s experiences have important lessons for other urban centers. Take its water treatment. In 1963, water functionality was shared between multiple ministries and agencies, which made it difficult to formulate a coordinated, long-term strategy.

With a rising population and finite freshwater resources, action was needed, so ministers set up a national water agency, PUB, which became the sole body responsible for the collection, production, distribution and reclamation of water in the city.

Today, its water operation has been transformed. Two thirds of Singapore’s land surface is now a water catchment area with water stored in 17 reservoirs, including the Marina Basin, right in the heart of the city.

Called NEWater, waste water is collected and treated to produce water that’s good enough to drink. This meets 30 percent of the city’s water needs, a target that will be increased to 50 percent of future needs by 2060.

Earlier this year, Siemens was contracted to identify CO2 reduction opportunities in transport, residential and non-industrial buildings, and IT/communications in the Tampines district.

As part of the city’s plan to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2030, Siemens will report back in 2013 with implementation costs, a plan to implement the changes and the design of pilots to trail three technological solutions.

“This will be a good test-bed for new technologies to prove what we can do,” says Dr Roland Busch, Siemens’ CEO of infrastructure and cities sector. “It’s a way to demonstrate in the highly competitive environment that is Singapore, that we can bring energy efficiency to the next level in addressing all the basic needs of cities.”

EDF and Veolia recently signed an agreement with Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB), the city-state’s largest developer, to develop software that will help it develop sustainable, urban planning solutions in HDB towns.

ForCity will simulate the built environment of a city and its impact on resources, the environment, people and intervention costs to help the HDB make its towns function more efficiently and become more pleasant to live in. The tool will be trialed in the Jurong East district of Singapore.

Transport is another sector that has seen investment recently. On an island of 4.8 million people with limited space, moving people around as efficiently as possible is key to its economic viability. A decade ago, city administrators warned that congestion could cost Singapore’s economy $2-3 billion per year, if transport infrastructure was not improved.

Then, there were two separate transport-charging systems in the city: road tolls and public transport, including the metro and buses. But since 2009, after a series of smart card innovations, people have been able to use e-Symphony, an IBM-designed payment card that can be used to pay for road tolls, bus travel, taxis, the metro, and even shopping.

The card can process 20 million fare transactions a day and collects extensive traffic data, allowing city administrators to constantly tweak routes to ensure the most efficient journeys and minimize congestion.

All these measures combine to make Singapore a smarter city. “What we have done is to research and try to distill the principles for Singapore’s success in sustainable urban development – we call it a live-ability framework,” says Khoo Teng Chye, executive director at the Centre for Liveable Cities based in Singapore.

“Quality of life, environmental sustainability and competitive economics. These are the components that make cities liveable.”

As the competition for resources increases and cities expand to accommodate rising populations, even those without the geographic constraints of Singapore will have to embrace smart city principles. If they don’t, they will lose out financially, unable to attract businesses and talent from cities that do. The planet simply can’t sustain current levels of resource use and environmental degradation. It’s not a choice; cities have to change.