Cities have long been concentrations of everything dangerous and damaging about human consumption. They guzzle energy and other resources and pump out pollution and garbage in return. The larger the city, the greater the environmental degradation.
But what if cities could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?
Not only is it possible, it’s necessary. Urban populations are expected to balloon over the next two decades to five billion people, more than twice their current size. At this rate, cities will account for stunning three-quarters of the world’s energy demand by 2030.
It isn’t just a matter of remembering to recycle. In order to combat the environmental threat on such a large scale, the very concept and goal of a city must be re-imagined. Luckily, we already have the technology and skill to achieve this, and everyone — city dwellers and rural citizens alike — will be better off for it. The cities of the future are eco-cities, designed to run a strong and efficient economy with minimal resources and improve the health, happiness, and quality of life of all their inhabitants.
One advantage that cities naturally enjoy is that urban citizens tend to take advantage of the density and proximity of conveniences and avoid traffic by walking more and driving less than suburban dwellers. A well-designed eco-city will take advantage of this fact and work to encourage human-driven transport even more.
Roadways will be designed to promote walking as safe, convenient, and pleasant, using large, clean sidewalks, prioritizing crosswalks, and offering public landscaping and art projects to add interest to popular routes. Perhaps surprisingly, self-driving cars will also play an important role in making foot traffic desirable by allowing pedestrians greater comfort and freedom when safely crossing the road and interacting with vehicles.
Finally, eco-cities make it easy for those cars that are still on the road to be efficient and environmentally friendly — cars for a bright, fossil fuel free future. Parks can offer electric car charging stations placed strategically around the city to make alternative fuel easy, convenient, and mainstream.
Densely populated cities also encourage apartment living, which usually means an efficient use of space and lower electricity usage per household. Of course, cities will always require energy and lots of it. An eco city’s job is to make sure that that energy isn’t sourced from destructive and unsustainable fuel sources, while also ensuring that it remains available and plentiful for all citizens.
The answer lies in efficient and accessible renewable energy. Across the city, many roofs should be equipped with solar panels and energy storage systems. Micro wind turbines also lend themselves perfectly to city living. Small and light, they affix easily to rooftops and take advantage of the notorious wind tunnels created by inner-city infrastructure.
Finally, covering the remaining rooftop space with greenery provides significant insulation, immediately cutting down on the costs of heating and cooling the interior. As an added bonus, green roofs absorb precious rainwater, filter the air automatically to reduce smog and pollution for pedestrians down below and provide a beautiful place for the building’s inhabitants to take a break and enjoy a small patch of inner-city nature. It can even be a perfect place to start an urban farm for fresh fruits and veggies.
When buildings are designed with energy efficiency in mind and equipped with energy-conscious features and appliances, a large portion of the energy it requires can be easily generated on its own roof.
Heating and air conditioning needs account for nearly two-thirds of energy use for a typical city business building. An alternative heating source, then, can go a long way to making a city eco friendly. District Heating involves tapping the excess heat produced as a byproduct of nearby utilities or industrial plants. Pipes can distribute the excess heat for building climate control, water heaters, and even to power air conditioning in the summer — all in a way 90 percent more efficient than traditional heating systems.
A Zero-Waste World
Cities produce a lot of waste, and getting to zero waste is just as important as zero emissions. Advanced recycling and compost systems are needed for an eco city to run smoothly and support citizens and the environment alike. A pneumatic tube trash collection system can keep the city clean while cutting down on trucks that are noisy, destructive to the streets, and wasteful.
A Day in the Sun
Eco cities aren’t just about providing for our children’s future on earth, they’re also about providing a good life for people now. Public parks provide a much-needed oasis fora city dweller to relax and experience a small piece of nature. Green spaces have been shown to significantly improve the health and mental well being of residents. They also offer the practical benefits of filtering the air and counteracting the heat island effect created by concrete and asphalt and naturally lowering inner city temperatures.