In the face of our climate crisis, most of these cities have ambitious plans to become carbon neutral with zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These cities plan to generate all electricity with renewables. At the same time that wind and solar power are being massively deployed, buildings and people are becoming more efficient, requiring less electricity.
Getting to 100 percent renewable electricity, however, does not cut even half of a city’s GHG emissions. Buildings typically use natural gas (methane) for heating, cooling, hot water, and cooking. Vehicles spew emissions by burning gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and other fossil fuels. To take advantage of renewable electricity, buildings and transportation will need to be all electric and efficient.
Improved understanding about local air quality can support significant policy changes and targeted incentives, including electric fleet conversions for particular transit routes, the provision of emission-control technologies or alternative routes for heavy duty trucks, targeted fuel-switching efforts for home heating in heavily impacted communities, or the enactment of new regulations for specific industrial operations. We can also use data about localized air pollution exposures to study health outcomes under specific environmental conditions. With the wealth of these new, localized data on air quality, supported by low-cost sensor technology, we can design the policies and deploy clean energy strategies that truly empower local communities and protect public health.
Landscape architects have long been designing for these multiple benefits, and their broad training and systems thinking makes them well-equipped to tackle new challenges brought on by a changing climate, increasing urbanization, and growing inequity. Cities are landscapes and should be planned and designed using a landscape approach; one that considers the larger systems and flows of water, energy, waste, species, and people and how they are nested at various scales. The landscape approach results in distinct multi-functional spaces that are so well resolved that the design intricacies may not be apparent at first glance. These landscapes respond to their context to facilitate connections, transitions, circulation, and views, in addition to addressing key project goals.
Municipal governments and local partner organizations are the primary governing bodies responsible for improving greenspaces in cities. But unlike other public lands, they do not have formal oversight, protection, research or guidance for their care. In comparison to rural forests, urban conservation strategies are developing — often with limited data and resources to understand basic information like where they are, their condition, and how they are changing. In cities, this responsibility has been left up to local institutions and governing bodies.
As our world becomes more urban, local forests will play a primary role in conservation education and nature connection for millions of people nationwide. Ensuring healthy forests in cities is not just an important mandate for individual cities but should be considered a national priority.
Ordered city geometry that is built today is meaningless for energy cycles. Resilient networks contain inherent diversity and redundancy, with optimal cooperation among their subsystems, yet they avoid optimization (maximum efficiency) for any single process. They require continuous input of energy in order to function, with energy cycles running simultaneously on many different scales.
Short-term urban fixes only wish to perpetuate the extractive model of cities, not to correct its underlying long-term fragility!
As communities and municipalities around America are grappling with extreme weather events, it is even more vital to incorporate smart urban tree canopy and green infrastructure planning into all resiliency and climate change planning. Assessing your community’s current green infrastructure assets and deficits provides immediate information for maximizing your quality of living but also sets out the road map for how prepared your community may be for extreme weather events – from flooding to hurricanes to drought. Take advantage of the Vibrant Cities Lab site and any of the tools in this urban forestry “starter pack” or wade in by reaching out to the experts at the USDA Forest Service.
The importance of this assessment is to provide information and data that can be used in creating effective policy that impacts transit access for those that are vulnerable during storm events. A vulnerability assessment can be undertaken by combining storm surge and extreme rainfall projections with transit availability characteristics to assess geographic vulnerability in regards to transit access and equity.
At the request of Kresge, a leading philanthropy focused on adaptation in the US, I joined with Dr. Susi Moser with Susanne Moser Research and Consulting and Aleka Seville at the time with Four Twenty Seven Inc. to conduct interviews and surveys with almost 100 leaders representing the public, private, and NGO/civic sectors and academia, covering a wide range of adaptation-related expertise and perspectives.
The data we have gathered about trees in this region are powerful, but are mostly meaningful because they are in fine enough in detail to be applicable at a local scale. We spent our first few years gathering data so we could identify solutions based on need and not speculation.
Urban areas are certainly important, but not exclusively so. Large swaths of population and economy reside in America’s suburbs, exurbs, and rural communities – each of which faces unique challenges that require tailored approaches. Americans outside urban areas not only recognize the impacts of climate change, they are driving unique adaptation approaches.
How do we bridge the city – nature gap and shape a new paradigm for cities and nature? By combining the natural sciences and the social sciences or integrating a quantitative, empirical foundation built around urban ecology with a mindset that values the qualitative sensitivities of sociology and phenomenology. Another way to think of this is a conversation between Rachel Carson and Jane Jacobs.
Cities present the greatest opportunity in the fight for low carbon development that promotes sustainability. Around the world we see the growth of “megacities” with developing world countries experiencing some of the greatest urbanization rates. The UN Population Fund estimates that more than half of the world’s population lives in cities today, and the number of urban dwellers is expected to continue to grow. NASA estimates that cities produce 70% of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions.
This post examines three steps that cities can follow to achieve emissions reductions.