Foundations Shaping the Future of Our Cities
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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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.
Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.
The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.
Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.
While the outlook for the environment may often seem bleak, there are many proven methods already available for cities to make their energy systems and other infrastructure not only more sustainable, but cheaper and more resilient at the same time. This confluence of benefits will drive investments in clean, efficient energy, transportation, and water infrastructure that will enable cities to realize their sustainability goals.
Given that many of the policy mechanisms that impact cities’ ability to boost sustainability are implemented at the state or federal level, municipalities should look to their own operations to implement change. Cities can lead as a major market player, for example, by converting their own fleets to zero emission electric vehicles, investing in more robust and efficient water facilities, procuring clean power, and requiring municipal buildings to be LEED certified.