28 February 2024
Building Climate-resilient, Healthy, and Safe Cities
Photo Credit: Paul Starkey / Ashden Photographer name: Paul Starkey
story highlights

Our Generation 2030 authors discuss innovative approaches to make urban spaces safe, sustainable, resilient, and inclusive.

These include the “sponge city” to support resilience to floods, the Internet of Things to improve waste management systems, and the “15 minute city” to promote inclusive development.

By Shreya Agarwal, Nabihah Begum, and Robert Lalle

Both the Global South and the Global North are facing setbacks in ensuring safe, clean, and disaster-resilient urban and peri-urban communities as urban populations grow. Prominent challenges include the lack of resilience to climate shocks, a growing need for waste management in expanding urban areas, and concerns about citizens’ safety in public spaces. Moreover, progress towards SDGs 9 and 11, focused on resilient infrastructure and on inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities, is at risk. As the global community grapples with these challenges, innovation and technology in urban planning emerge as pivotal solutions.

One approach to make urban areas more resilient to disasters such as floods is that of the “sponge city.” At their core, sponge cities are urban areas with substantial natural cover of trees, lakes, and parks that can absorb rain and prevent flooding. Recognizing the criticality of incorporating natural infrastructure with concrete infrastructure, sponge city researchers are urging governments to design climate-resilient cities and contribute to sustainable development. Based on a study conducted in seven major cities, including Toronto (Canada), New York (US), and Mumbai (India), through satellite imagery, artificial intelligence (AI), and land-use analysis, the “sponginess” of a city can be measured and enhanced.

Technological advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) are being used to transform waste management in urban areas, streamlining stock processes and providing data to cut transportation costs, contributing to cost-effective waste management systems. Waste management is a primary concern for keeping urban communities safe in both low- and high-income countries, including the US. Over half of the world’s population currently resides in urban areas, a figure expected to rise to 70% by 2050. Waste management typically constitutes around 20% of a city’s annual budget, the burden of which is primarily borne by the city governments’ limited budgets. IoT empowers waste and recycling companies to optimize waste collection routes, and more effectively serve the needs of large city-run municipal waste collection companies.

Another urban planning concept that aims to promote inclusive development is that of the “15 minute city.” It is a design that ensures essential services in a city are conveniently reachable within a 15-minute radius for its residents, as opposed to the traditional demarcation between residential areas and commercial areas. The design also discourages the use of motor vehicles to run simple errands, consequently bettering the air quality and encouraging people to walk or bike. This concept is not new and has existed in many forms across the world, for example “barrios vitales” (vital neighborhoods) in Bogotá, Colombia, “20-minute neighborhoods” in Melbourne, Australia, and “superblock” in Barcelona, Spain, to name a few. The idea behind 15-minute cities is to advance fair and inclusive urban development by cultivating a stronger sense of community and improving health and well-being of the local economy and its people.

Safety in urban public spaces is paramount for any of the aforementioned urban planning approaches to be truly beneficial. Many cities are now using technology to improve their public safety methods. For instance, the Safetipin app allows citizens to audit and rate public spaces on defined parameters of safety such as lighting, openness, visibility, crowd, presence of women, presence of security, availability of public transport, and the state of the walk path. The app collects data through photographs, which are then used to code safety parameters.

Apps like Safetipin can be utilized by city governments to build safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable infrastructure, with special attention to the needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.

It is now more than ever that urban planning needs careful consideration, given the expected growth in urban population. Technology is only as effective as it is accessible and inclusive. Governments across the globe need to tap its potential to make urban spaces safe, sustainable, resilient, and inclusive.

* * *

Shreya Agarwal is an MA student in International Development Studies, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

Nabihah Begum is an MA student in International Affairs and Development, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

Robert Lalle is an MA student in Global Communications: Europe and Eurasian, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

related posts