Cities of the Future

In The shareable future of cities, Alex Steffen is challenging us to keep asking questions, and take a look at solving climate change in a novel ways. He argues that it’s possible that concentrating all our efforts solely on the transition from fossil fuel generation to clean energy alternatives may in fact be setting us up for failure. He explains: “We live in a planet that is rapidly urbanizing…by mid-century there could be 8 billion or more people living in cities or within a day’s travel of one”. He points out that producing energy for that many people, even from renewable sources, may just not be feasible. He suggests that the urban expansion we will be facing in the next 50 years is, in and of itself, the key to tackling climate change. By approaching any new development as an opportunity to integrate new ways of reducing our energy consumption (concentrating on urban density to reduce public transport’s footprint, infill development, urban retrofitting and allowing people to access resources without having to use a personal vehicle) urbanization can be an opportunity to do things differently. By providing “access to the capacity of things”, people are more satisfied, and tend to consume less. He also mentions problems like surplus capacity, where people are inclined to buy an item for a one off use due to lack of access to an alternative, and solutions like pop-up spaces and integrated live/work spaces, where one small footprint can provide several uses instead of just sitting empty. Passive solar technology and designs that maximize daylight and airflow can also greatly contribute to the reduction of energy use. Lastly, he stresses the importance of eco-integration, and not simply covering unused space with greenery, but ensuring the “bones” (the infrastructure) of a city facilitates water re-circulation and collection, as well as creating pathways for pollinators and sequestering carbon. The major take-away here is that instead of living well on borrowed time, we could be thriving while creating a brighter future.

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