Enabling Future Global Green Cities


Between 2000 and 2030 the global urban footprint will double,
mostly due to growth in developing nation cities. Urban carbon and resource
impacts cannot, must not double during this period. What can be done by
policymakers, the private sector, civil society and urban leaders to prevent
the unthinkable, a global climate and ecosystem incapable of supporting stable species
populations and food production?

A botched transition to the coming urban future will ensure
stresses far beyond our comprehension.

So, I will be addressing the Global Green
Cities Symposium
in San Francisco Feb. 24 on “Enabling Future Global Green Cities.” In
my previous post I described how this event acknowledges a sense of urgency by taking
a novel approach to expert and cross-industry collaboration.

Clearly, cities in developing nations are the crux of the
matter: 90% of projected urban growth will occur in developing nation metros during the
next decades. By 2040, the developing nation urban sector will benefit from an
estimated total of more than $300 trillion in expenditures for the built
environment and transportation, both in infrastructure and operations. Increasingly
these city functions and services will be optimized to address both climate
change mitigation and climate change adaptation.

Before getting to the how, let’s address the issue of cities
on the basic level of benefits and risks.

Pros of increased urbanism:

  • easier provision of lower-cost high-value services (healthcare, education, water, transportation, communications, commerce)
  • enhanced cultural activities and opportunities
  • urban economic innovation in global hubs benefit their surrounding rural regions, and especially national economies

Cons of increased urbanism:

  • increased pollution and concentration of
    wastes, congestion, urban-heat island effect
  • negative social impacts which can include loss
    of sense of community, isolation from nature and decreased safety and
    security, exacerbated by a large-scale lack of affordable housing
  • sprawled urban borders place natural resources
    (agricultural land, habitat, fisheries, watersheds) at much greater risk

Beyond the pros and cons of urbanization, the populations
and economies of all cities are vulnerable to the increasingly severe impacts
of global climate change, including rising sea levels, flooding, winter storms,
drought and extreme heat events. Besides higher rates of death and
disease from climate change-induced environmental conditions, mass population
migrations are expected to occur in the not-distant future. From New Orleans
to Bangladesh,
urban climate-related population diasporas have already begun.

Cities will need to
quickly begin shifting their spending from high-carbon intensity infrastructure
to green infrastructure that produces very low carbon emissions in production,
transport, implementation and maintenance.

Long-term and strategic action plans will be necessary to
guide capital toward infrastructure solutions offering attractive
returns on investment. Such returns can take many forms–reduced operating costs
(including reuse and disposal), low embodied and operating carbon emissions, lower air
and water pollution levels, and greater resource efficiency.

Global competitiveness may soon be defined in part by comparative carbon
emission rates. Low-carbon urban economies, for instance, will gain a decisive
edge over economies (urban, exurban or rural) that remain relatively heavy
per-capita carbon emitters. This competitive advantage will be gained not only
because of environmental and quality of life factors but also because of the
potential merger of international trade rules and carbon emissions regulations.

The OECD Mayors Roundtable in 2010
recommended that urban policy makers pursue integrated policy in three areas: the adjustment of firms to new sustainability related
business opportunities and energy volatility; enabling individual consumers or citizens to change their preferences
for products and services, and, finally; developing and effectively diffusing green
technologies in the marketplace.

Following are other leading strategies and recommendations
that will be covered in the United Nations “Shanghai Training Manual for
Sustainable Cities”
 (In order to be more likely to succeed, multi-sector
collaboration and transparency will be required of each):

  •  New integrated, long-term and multi-scale models
    for structuring, managing, measuring and financing city performance (e.g.,
    World Bank Eco2 Cities program)
    including life-cycle energy/ carbon, maintenance and capital cost management across
    budgets, capital planning and large-scale investments. Early examples include Curitiba,
    Brazil, and a Stockholm industrial district.
  • Mega-region and regional planning approaches,
    including those with “cascaded” micro-planning, such as Greater London (pdf).
  • Community-based natural disaster management, such as the Dhaka example (pdf)
  • Core ICT Planning and Strategy: With e-planning ICT can help cities avoid
    high-carbon land use. Digital technology
    makes it possible for cities to achieve lower carbon emissions from better planning
    and management of infrastructure, buildings, energy and transportation. ICT can
    provide valuable public access in communications and governance, such as Mumbai’s
  • Public-private partnerships that are well constructed.
    Early examples include South Korea’s Smart Grid 2030,
    China’s Guangdong Province wastewater projects.
    partnership agreements should be part of a transparent public
    process that is beneficial to all parties, especially citizens.
  • “In situ”
    slum upgrading
    , versus indiscriminately tearing down slums. Vulnerabilities must be addressed for those slums that are located in areas
    particularly at risk to climate change, such as flood plains and land subject
    to severe storm erosion. The good news, however, is that
    most urban slums are high
    density, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, made from recycled material, adaptive
    to changing conditions and can be socially inclusive with strong neighborhood
    social networks.

Green urbanization has the potential to shape the 21st
century as much or more than earlier economic and technological advances. The
key difference between this trend and prior economic waves–transportation,
communications, energy, advanced materials and industrialization–will be the
use of integrated urban system approaches.

Bonafide global green cities will only be
fully realized through combined cultural, managerial and
technological innovation that is constantly guided by the active participation of the civil and
private sectors, academia and government.

Let’s all get busy…

(“World Metro Map” image credit)

Karlenzig is president of Common
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and


Making the Cities of India More Sustainable


With Mumbai, one of the largest cities of the world, treating only 30-40 percent of its sewage, experiencing five-hour traffic delays and hosting massively expanding unplanned slums, urban sustainability needs to be viewed through a different lens than elsewhere.

India will add an additional 26 cities of one million or more by 2030 to its 42 one million+ cities today. The 2008 population in cities of 340 million in 2008 will soar to 590 million by 2030. The need for much improved urban housing and health services, let alone better planning, governance and carbon management, threatens the nation’s and thus the world’s economic stability: India’s population by 2030 is forecast to overtake China’s

A report released this month by the McKinsey Global Institute,

India’s Urban Awakening,” provides a rich and thorough analysis of the challenges faced by Indian cities, while also providing a clear agenda for future improvements. Changes will need to occur at the local, state and national level, and will require the active participation of the international business community through public-private partnerships.

First the bad news.

As a contrast to China, which has staged much of its recent urban growth in nationally planned phases targeted at geographies, economies and infrastructure, Indian cities are experiencing rapid unplanned growth. Major financial investment, to the tune of $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years, will be needed to address how Indian cities are falling short of meeting even a basic standard of living in:

  • Water supply: will need to increase 3.5 times current supply to meet basic demand by 2030
  • Sewage: treatment will need to increase two times current levels to meet demand by 2030
  • Solid waste: will need to increase six times today’s treatment levels by 2030 because of consumption expected by an emerging middle class.
  • Public transit access and service: 20 times the capacity of metros and subways will need to be added over what has been provided in the past ten years
  • Affordable housing: will need to increase 10 times by 2030 to meet expected needs.
  • Slum populations that now comprise 24% of India’s urban population will need to be addressed with formal affordable housing programs and housing structures.

Oddly, no forecasts were made in “India’s Urban Awakening” regarding the amount or mix of energy that will be needed to meet the needs of India’s cities. With massive growth in electricity use for buildings (at least 40% of India currently is not connected to the power grid), large increases in personal auto ownership, and volatile global energy supplies and pricing, India is faced with urban growth-associated issues that if unaddressed threaten the very core of its existence as a nation.

According to the McKinsey report, however, India has sufficient time and the means (with international financial, business and humanitarian partners) by which to address many of these pressing or devastating issues. The McKinsey Institute report also presented a framework for a plan by which India can meet the financial need to increase spending on cities from its current rate of 0.5% to 2% of GDP.

On a per-capita basis, India now spends 14% of what China spends on its cities and only 4% of what the United Kingdom spends on its cities.

The key elements of the report plan outlined five strategies for meeting its urban financial obligations, most of which India currently ranks “poor” in:

1. Monetize land assets.
2. Maximize property taxes and usage charges.
3. Establish a formula-based grants systems from state and central government.
4. Use appropriate debt and private-sector participation (i.e., public-private partnerships).
5. Create enabling systems and city development funds to facilitate use of revenue sources.

The report also outlined four significant “dimensions” besides funding, on which Indian cities need to concentrate improvements in order to successfully transform urban economies and sustainability opportunities:

1. Shape: Where people live. Unlike China, India has made no real attempt to plan where growth of cities will occur, or to determine where new cities will be most needed, and as a result unplanned urban sprawl is increasingly common.

2. Governance: How cities in particular are governed. Develop executive leadership at city level in mid-sized to large cities. India is currently the only G20 nation lacking such leadership. Cities in India are currently governed by their host states from a considerable distance in many cases. The report does cite the success of Kolkata’s (Calcutta) mayor-commission model as a potential national model for executive power combined with administrative-technical support.

3. Sectoral policies: These include economic development, sustainability management, and housing management. India does not plan enough for affordable
housing, providing 200,000 units a year versus needed minimum of 2 million
units. The number of people living in slums in 2008 was some 82 million, a number that could double by 2030. Recommendations are to establish funding, draw upon external expert advice and hire dedicated managers to focus on these areas.

4. Urban Planning: Change from ad hoc and sporadic planning. Develop longer-term plans (40-50 year) with nested 20-year master plans designating land uses, transportation services, infrastructure and building typologies that are actionable on the ground with transparent public processes. Use modeling and “fly-overs” to educate stakeholders of planning options (Singapore, London and New York are cited for best practices). India’s current urban planning processes exist as documents only, and are not executed or followed in reality.

The report in its introduction observes: “The speed of urbanization poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge–yet India has barely engaged in a discussion about how to handle this seismic shift in the makeup of the nation.”

From my experience, I would dispute the assertion that the country is barely engaged in such discussions. My firm Common Current and our partners have been involved in a lively series of exchanges with high-level officials from national ministries and planning bodies in India regarding the future of its cities, with sustainability focused approaches in renewable energy, water and transportation infrastructure being key points of discussion.

How India’s national urban planning plays out on localized levels in actual cities, though, remains to be seen. Whatever may transpire, “India’s Urban Awakening” is an invaluable resource for determining just how the path forward can be understood and, hopefully, navigated.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post