Just as the United Nations maintains, “climate changes poses a new challenge for cities”. In the year 2050, society on Earth will be primarily urban, as up to 68 percent of the total population will live in large cities. 9.7 billion people will live on our planet by then, according to the same organization. They will do so in megacities, many of which have not yet been built as the population increase will mainly come from Africa (up to 4.4 billion people) and Asia (4.9 billion), according to World Bank estimates. As a more immediate example of the speed of this population redistribution, India is expected to surpass China as the most populated country in the world in 2027.
The massive growth of cities threatens sustainability as well as the quality of life of those who live in large urban areas, as unplanned growth could lead to social instability, thus diminishing the cities’ economic capacity. Given this scenario, a study by researchers from the University of Nottingham calls for a new model of sustainability that allows for energy savings, reduced consumption and environmental protection while improving the quality of life for future citizens.
For Saffa Riffat, Richard Powell and Devrim Aydin, future cities should be a diverse environment that synchronize economic activities and the coexistence of the communities. In an article published in the magazine Future Cities and Environment, the researchers mention some of the most disruptive initiatives to promote urban sustainability, with several pioneering examples that are leading the way for the buildings of the future.
A building with zero waste that can export energy
The Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) in Hong Kong is an example of a pioneering initiative. Located in the heart of the city’s financial district (Kowloon Bay), it has a surface area of more than 14,000 square meters distributed in a carbon zero building and a surrounding garden area, which is essential to achieve the goal of zero emissions. Together these two spaces make up the CIC-ZCP, Hong Kong’s first zero carbon park that only uses renewable energy from solar panels and biofuel made from used kitchen oil. In addition, the CIC-ZCP even exports excess energy to compensate for the carbon from its construction and structural materials used to build it.
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) is an even more ambitious plan: a project to create the world’s first sustainable city with zero waste. Designed for 40,000 residents, it is also conceived as a knowledge center for academic scholars, researchers and companies focused on the development of sustainable technology.
It works by combining passive design and smart technologies to create an environment that can accomodate a dense population more efficiently than traditional cities. Demand for water and energy by the buildings in the city, for example, is 40 percent lower than an average building in Abu Dhabi, according to the project’s website.
The ocean: the great ally of the cities of the future?
In addition to optimizing consumption and contributing to environmental protection, climate change is another factor that forces the cities of the future to rethink. Large urban areas will be on the front line when it comes to natural disasters caused by climate change, such as rising sea level, drought or hurricanes. For this reason, the Executive Director of UN Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, maintains that cities “will have to continue promoting innovation in a pioneering way” as foreseen in the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
In order to protect ourselves from natural disasters, the ocean has become the focus of several different areas of research. How can human beings protect themselves from a mass of water that occupies 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. For architects, scientists and urban planners, the time has come to “take the plunge” and make the ocean our great ally. The idea is that the cities of the future are conceived as “amphibious”. In other words they are capable of supporting floods, interacting with the water, or directly by floating, which is not longer science fiction.
Moving civilization to the ocean, and viewing it as an advantage for survival and urban development is a new path to sustainability that was discussed at the first UN Round Table on Floating Sustainable Cities in 2019. Harnessing the power of waves to produce energy, allowing the cities to move to locations with the best climate on a seasonal basis or producing food by taking advantage of the marine environment will be some of the areas of research that are laying the foundation for future plans for cities in the ocean.
The city proposed by the company Oceanix, which builds floating structures, and the architect Bjarke Ingels is an example. It entails a floating foundation comprised of hexagonal structures that can withstand tsunamis and hurricanes. This city will also be capable of generating its own energy, freshwater and ocean crops, in other words, food grown under the water, enabling the floating city to be self-sustaining. Technologies like self-driving cars or unpiloted planes are also considered fundamental actors in this environment.