Humankind’s “great urbanisation” is real and now!

A recent article in the Guardian, coauthored by Professor Lord Stern, called upon our generation’s “great urbanisation” to be conscious and to not limit future generations to cities that are unhealthy and unsustainable.

Bad planning can limit our potential to fight climate change and limit emissions but also create poorer conditions for city dwellers. The article also notes that bad planning can intensify levels of air and noise pollution and it’s obvious health and wellbeing impacts.

“In less than 100 years the world urban population is expected to double to 8 or 9 billion.” Stern and Zenghelis

A debate held at the LSE in November 2015, which also featured Stern, made an urgent call for cities to be forefront of the battle against climate change, citing one way to do this is to adopt a more “compact city” model that encourages efficiency and more sustainable forms of transport such as walking.

Also, a few weeks ago in Quito, Ecuador, the UN New Urban Agenda set out a 20 year plan of urban regeneration and a vision of more compact cities and public transport-based development. This is expected to help encourage communities and cities to take action and reorder how cities are designed.

An example of how planning can result in significantly reduces emissions is that of Atlanta and Barcelona. Both cities have the same population and similar GDP per capita rates. However, Barcelona has 4% of the urban area of Atlanta, and therefore generates 7 times less emissions. It is evident that planning laws should encourage denser developments and avoid urban sprawl if it really wants to reduce emissions.

However, there is a balance to be made where ultra high rise developments can sometimes alienate it’s inhabitants and reduce overall wellbeing and sense of community.

There needs to be a focus on the human scale and the health and wellbeing of city dwellers to lead the forefront of this “great urbanisation”. Understanding peoples needs can help refocus how the city is to be structured and inherently take the focus away from inefficient modes of transport.

Cities that are compact, connected and coordinated are more productive, socially inclusive, resilient, cleaner, with lower GHG emissions, quieter and safer.

Stern emphasised the importance of strong interaction between local city governments and the private sector to take action. There should be strong interaction between community groups that highlight peoples needs directly to these local city governments, and push the private sector into driving a more sustainable and healthy urban future.

I’ll end on a couple of linked poignant quotes from the article,

“The future of the world’s urban population will mostly be built in our lifetime”

“The consequences of bad urban planning and design will last decades or even centuries.”

We need to make our generation’s “great urbanisation” truly great for us and our future generations.


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