Trends of and Strategies for Post-Pandemic Urban Safety and Sustainable Development
Trends of and Strategies for Post-Pandemic
Urban Safety and Sustainable Development
— Build Better Green Cities Through Decoupling, Decarbonization,
Decentralization, Digitalization and Glocalization
Sustainable City Committee of China Research Society for Urban Development
January 15, 2021
Respected Dr. Elena Manaenkova, Deputy Secretary-General of the WMO, distinguished guests, IGMC partners, ladies and gentlemen,
Happy New Year!
At the beginning of the new year, we are full of hope. I’m very glad to meet you at this webinar on the theme of “IGMC Initiative: Calling for Stronger Actions Towards Healthy, Resilient and Carbon-Neutral Cities”. The IGMC Initiative, which is based on the principles of “safety, sustainability, equity, identity, prosperity and happiness”, is a partnership initiative of Sustainable Development Goal11, and a global action plan for building “zero waste and zero emission” oriented green cities, with the aim of promoting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement. At present, 41 cities and businesses in the world have joined the Initiative, forming a network for exchanges, sharing, interaction and cooperation.
The year 2020 was an extraordinary year in human history. The whole world was disrupted by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, Mother Nature brutally retaliated against us. Without gunpowder, this world war hit every corner of the world, putting human beings under lockdown and causing heavy losses!
At the same time, we are also facing severe crisis brought by ecological imbalance, climate change, natural disasters, water pollution, food insecurity and other non-conventional safety challenges. Cities bore the brunt of multiple disasters. Safety has become the rarest thing in the city. This was probably the most painful experience of mankind last year.
The UN Secretary-General said, “Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos.” He also called on all nations to declare a “state of climate emergency” at the Climate Ambition Summit. At the One Planet Summit held this Monday, he also said, “2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature.” He urged the international community to work hard to protect biodiversity and strengthen climate actions.
Dear friends and partners,
We are in an era of unprecedentedly rapid and irreversible urbanization. According to the UN report: in 2018, 55% of the world’s population lived in cities, reaching 4.2 billion; it is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population, i.e. 7 billion people, will live in cities, with nearly 90% of the urbanization growth coming from Asia and Africa. China’s urbanization rate was 60.6% in 2019, and it is expected to reach 75% to 80% in the future.
Cities are not only the source of resource consumption, pollution, emission and ecological degradation, but also the main battlefield of solving these problems so as to realize green recovery and transformation, and to achieve sustainable development.
2021 will be the year of green transformation and action. In my opinion, the following five trends will be seen in the development of cities in the post-pandemic era: decoupling, decarbonization, decentralization, digitalization and glocalization. These five trends are often intertwined with each other. We should attach great importance to them and adopt corresponding strategies, standards and methods, so as to seize opportunities, rise to challenges and achieve our goals.
The first trend is decoupling, which means to decouple urban development from resource consumption, and build circular metabolic cities.
Cities consume three-quarters of the world’s resources. The growing population and consumption would only be satisfied by three earths’ natural resources. But modern cities often follow the one-way mode with an inflow of resources and an outflow of waste. Household waste keeps mounting while precious resources such as energy, raw materials and water are utilized inefficiently, which leads to cities being sieged by garbage, environmental pollution, resource depletion, soil degradation, rising commodity prices and ecosystem damage. At the same time, construction land expansion has outpaced population growth. As a result, farmland, forests, wetlands, coastlines and wildlife habitats have been overly encroached on, and the risk of pandemics has increased, because 75% of the new human infectious diseases are zoonotic. Therefore, decoupling is the fundamental way to improve urban safety, health and resilience, alleviate conflicts and realize harmony between man and nature.
In the coming decades, we need to decouple the development and prosperity of urban economy from the increasing consumption of resources. By redesigning urban infrastructure, developing circular economy and organic agriculture, and implementing sustainable consumption and production, we can make resources flow in a closed loop within the city or between the city and the countryside, with the recycling of materials, nutrition and energy. Meanwhile, we should strengthen sustainable spatial planning and land use, develop compact, integrated and connected sustainable cities, contain urban sprawl, and create eco-friendly cities.
The second trend is decarbonization, that is, reducing carbon emissions, achieving carbon neutrality, and developing carbon neutral or net zero carbon cities.
Last month, the UN Secretary-General called for “flicking the ‘green switch” and“putting a price on carbon” to “achieve global carbon neutrality within the next three decades”. At present, the EU and more than 110 countries have committed themselves to carbon neutrality by 2050. The new US administration has announced the same goal. China has proposed to realize this goal by 2060. President Xi Jinping also declared a strong initiative on China’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) at the Climate Ambition Summit. Many pioneer cities have already put forward the objective of carbon neutrality, including three partner cities of IGMC: Vancouver, Cape Town and Accra.
2021 will be the year of global action for carbon neutrality, with comprehensive urban decarbonization being the top priority. Specific measures include: improving energy efficiency; building a distributed renewable energy system for a transformation to renewable energy equity; promoting green and zero energy buildings; developing e-mobility to facilitate green travel; encouraging a green lifestyle and a more vegetarian diet; implementing carbon tax, boosting carbon finance and low-carbon economy, and enhancing carbon sequestration through afforestation.
The third trend is decentralization, namely, building self-sufficient cities with distributed infrastructure and a network-based economic model.
An interconnected network, just like the organic system of a bee swarm, a fish school, human neural network, is characterized by self-organization, adaptability, evolvability and strong resilience.
Green cities should also be an organic cluster system with a distributed model, featuring greater adaptability and resilience, where resources are provided and waste is disposed of locally, and consumers are also producers. For example, buildings connected by smartgrids become power stations; feces and kitchen waste are composted in the community, biogas is used for cooking, and biogas residues are used as organic fertilizer; sewage is treated nearby in the community or industrial park, water and sludge are recycled; urban agriculture develops inside and outside buildings and on balconies.
Urban spatial structures are shifting from one single center to multiple centers. Megacities are connecting with surrounding cities to form a network of city clusters. Traditional large municipal parks are turning into pocket parks. More green space is available within walking distance. Community medical care will be strengthened to treat fever patients at an early stage. Large shopping malls will be replaced by more convenience stores and online shopping malls. Huge office space in traditional CBDs will be taken place by more diversified and scattered one. Working from home as well as commercial and residential integration will become more and more popular; blockchain technology will also facilitate economic and social decentralization, thus people will no longer need a “trusted” third party for regulation.
The fourth trend is digitalization, that is, developing smart cities with intelligent city management.
Kevin Kelly, an American writer of new economy, said that atom was the icon of the 20th century, while the Internet is that of the 21st century. Digital technology is profoundly reshaping urban planning, development and operation, and improving resource utilization and operation efficiency, which can be exemplified by: intelligent spacial planning based on the 3S technology; intelligent building and project management based on the BIM technology and industrialized manufacturing; smart community and smart home services based on the Internet and the IoT technology; e-commerce that’s becoming the mainstream; increasingly mature self-driving technology, intelligent water utilities and smart grids; and robotics that’s replacing human labor.
Digital technology has played an important role in the prevention and control of COVID-19. Also, online shopping (including buying vegetables online), online education, online medical care, telecommuting and virtual conferences are all flourishing with huge potential.
However, how can takeout waste be reduced? How can privacy be protected? How can teenagers get rid of video game addiction? How can necessary outdoor activities be ensured for the sake of people’s health and neighborhood vitality? How can AI be kept under control? All these are the new challenges that the digital economy is imposing on us.
The fifth trend is glocalization, which refers to the integration of universality and personality to develop cities of identity.
The pros and cons of globalization have always been the focus of debate around the world. The best practice is to localize it, making use of its advantages and avoiding its disadvantages according to the local condition, climate and culture. However, many cities become homogeneous as a result of complete duplications. We must be confident enough to create a unique style rooted in the local culture so as to build a city that’s distinctive in both the spirit and the architectural landscape. “Identity” is one of the six basic principles of the IGMC Standards. A city without identity is unappealing to talents, and those who abandon their local culture can hardly find their ego and happiness.
Indigenous people around the world have many clever ways that have stood the test of history to live in harmony with nature, grow food and build architectures. The UN Secretary-General stressed that “indigenous knowledge, distilled over millennia of close and direct contact with nature, can help to point the way.”
Before the 1980s, traditional circular economy in China’s rural areas was very successful. For example, the Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond model in the Pearl River Delta fully recycled nutrients without any waste to produce safe and tasty food. In terms of architecture, ZhugeVillage in Lanxi, Zhejiang Province, enjoys geographical advantages and preserves rows of ancient buildings intact. With about 600 years of history, the Village remains a wonderful place for farming, teaching, living and working. In contrast, modern reinforced concrete buildings have a depreciation life of just about 60 years. Contemporary Chinese architecture can only last for about 30 years. This issue is worth pondering.
The above five trends of urban transformation and development also reflect the logic and law of nature, or in other words, follow the rules of the nature. The way of nature, seemingly common, is actually profound.The network and AI are learning the inherent logic of nature, such as the organic system of bee swarms, to evolve towards a new type of biological civilization. Nature is always our best teacher.
Those five trends can be found in the concepts and standards of IGMC, whose corresponding strategies and methods are systematic and forward-looking. I often say “a green city is like a tree”, because I was inspired by nature. Trees are characterized by photosynthesis, circulation, self-sufficiency, carbon fixation, oxygen release, shade microclimate, balanced networks of leaf veins as well as fair and efficient energy distribution to each part—all these are worth learning for cities.
Green is the primary color of nature. To develop a green city is in line with nature’s rules and the trend of the times. We need to study and conform to the logic and laws of nature, rethink, reevaluate, redesign and reshape our cities, so as to achieve harmony between cities and nature, and ensure eco-balance and urban security. That is the very goal of the IGMC Initiative in this new era.
Against the complex backdrop of pandemic normalization and green recovery and transformation, the IGMC Initiative, with IGMC Standards 3.0 being the planning guide and evaluable tool for sustainable urban development, provides innovative concepts, integrated strategies and methods, and assessment monitoring systems, as well as carries out pilot projects, so as to build safe, carbon-neutral and sustainable cities and human settlements for all, accelerate green transformation and implement locally the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement and the New Urban Agenda.
Many cities in the world have been following those five trends by adopting the concepts and strategies of the IGMC Initiative and Standards. Some have created a perfect model of green development, such as Copenhagen, Singapore, Shenzhen, Johannesburg, and Hammarby. Some have been commended by GFHS, including Vienna, Santa Monica, Mannheim, Glasgow, Tianjin Eco-city, Forest City of Country Garden Group, China-Germany Eco-park and Masdar Eco-city. Today’s webinar also involves many cities and industrial parks which serve as the best example of following the rules of nature and building tree-like green cities.
Two architects who have won the “Global Human Settlements Outstanding Contribution Award” have set a successful example for the industry: Mr. Mick Pierce, a master of Bionics and advocate of adaptive architecture from Zimbabwe, designed bionic buildings after being inspired by the nest of termites, such as the East Gate Building in Harare; Dr. Ken Yeang, who emphasizes that a built environment must be an artificial ecosystem, designed Suasana PJH in Malaysia and other ecological buildings by imitating and copying the features of the natural ecosystem. These two examples are also a perfect illustration of following the rules of nature and building tree-like green cities.
Ten years ago, we launched the IGMC Initiative at the headquarters of the United Nations, proposing at that time the rarely-known goals of net zero carbon and zero waste. Today, there has been an international consensus on carbon neutrality, and pilot cities of zero waste have become commonplace. Many cities, industrial parks and enterprises involved at today’s webinar have been the trailblazers and been learning and exploring the innovative practices of green cities. I believe that little drops of water make a mighty ocean.
You are welcome to join the IGMC Initiative, adopt the IGMC standards, and use our online system for data sharing, assessment, planning and construction guidance. We look forward to working with you to go with the trend of the times and the rules of the nature, and to accelerate green transformation and innovation for healthy, resilient, carbon neutral and better green cities.