Foundations Shaping the Future of Our Cities

By Meghna Tare

Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington where she has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, GRI reporting, and carbon management. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, has done various radio shows on sustainability, is an active blogger, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @meghnatare.

Aug 19, 2014 | Urban Sustainability | 0 comments

Nine billion people living well within the limits of the planet by mid-century. That is the simple but powerful “Vision 2050” that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, or WBCSD, has for the future of humanity.

Rampant growth and dwindling resources is creating new vulnerabilities to health and economic well-being, greater pressures for urban planning and governance–all of which require new strategies for building resilience for individuals, communities and cities. As we move toward 2050 we are facing the consequences of accelerating urbanization and population growth, the rise of mega-cities and mega-regions, and the increasing demand for and complexity of mobility options.

But Cities are also places of enormous innovation and opportunity! The key to planning for sustainability cities of the future is to bring together the leadership of city governments and the innovation and delivery capacity of the private sector to drive sustainability towards 2050.  Here are a few examples of such partnerships and foundations that are catalyzing this movement:

  • Building strategic engagement and “co-innovation” between cities and business has been the core focus of the WBCSD’sUrban Infrastructure Initiative, or UII — 14 leading global companies and 10 cities around the world working collaboratively to identify innovative and practical solutions to help cities realize their long-term vision for prosperity and sustainability. The UII recently presented a report to the City of Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter, on sustainability initiatives to support the city’s goal of becoming the Greenest City in America.

    For more, watch the video above.

  • CDFIs (community development financial institutions) invest in underserved U.S. markets for social and environmental impact. CDFIs make loans and investments to foster economic equality, environmental sustainability, food access, health care, education, affordable housing and more. As financial intermediaries, CDFIs offer a convenient way for impact investors to target their capital towards particular economic or environmental issues.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation takes a systemic approach to issues facing urban areas–such as climate change, sustainable infrastructure systems, and innovation for informal economies–with a focus on spurring equitable growth across societies. The Foundation launched the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge to help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.  Nearly 400 cities across six continents applied to be among the first cities selected to receive technical support and resources to improve their urban resilience over three years.
  • Sustainable Cities International (SCI) is a non-profit based in Vancouver, Canada.  SCI works with cities globally to bring about change towards urban sustainability.  SCI focuses on building human capacity within cities by bringing together the business and academic communities, civil society organizations and various levels of government to tackle urban issues through peer learning exchanges. They focus on a variety of projects from large-scale planning strategies for cities to small scale urban sustainability projects.
  • The New Cities Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to making cities across the world more inclusive, dynamic and creative. The foundation helps incubate, promote and scale urban innovations through collaborative partnerships between government, business, academia, and communities. Their in-house think-and-do tank, the Urban (co)LAB develops applied research projects to better understand and solve the biggest urban challenges of cities. The New Cities Summit 2014– leading global event on the future of the urban world was recently hosted in Dallas, Texas.  Such agenda-setting events provide a frank platform for exchange, debate and promotion of major urban issues and their practical solutions.

Rating our performance

Clean Edge recently released its 2014 Clean Teach Leadership Index. The State index rates three subject areas: technology (in areas such as energy efficiency, transportation and green buildings), policy (regulations and incentives), and capital (financial, human, and intellectual).  California clearly dominates by having five cities in the top 10. The west coast dominates in clean teach, and the east coast states dominate in the policy arena (clean tech policies, mandates, regulations, and incentives). While the rest of the cities in the U.S are playing catch-up or trying to survive the stress of financial adversity and bankruptcy, foundations like these will help them stand up on their feet again and focus on sustainable development.

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Read more from the CityMinded.org Blog

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Big Data, Automation, and the Future of Transportation

In recent years, a variety of forces (economic, environmental, and social) have quickly given rise to “shared mobility,” a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to share transportation resources, save money, and generate capital. Bikesharing services, such as BCycle, and business-to-consumer carsharing services, such as Zipcar, have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed shared mobility from the fringe to the mainstream. The role of shared mobility in the broader landscape of urban mobility has become a frequent topic of discussion. Shared transportation modes—such as bikesharing, carsharing, ridesharing, ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs), and microtransit—are changing how people travel and are having a transformative effect on smart cities.

Smart Cities and the Weather

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.

Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals.  A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.

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