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Smart Cities 2021

Smart cities can lead the way in the race to net zero

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Vasif Bagirov

Graeme Neill

Editor, Smart Cities World

Cities have always been at the forefront of innovation, attracting people for centuries with their promise of a better life, but they are also at the forefront of damaging our climate.

UNESCO estimates that cities are responsible for three quarters of climate change emissions, with transport and buildings especially culpable. If we are to meet net-zero targets by 2050, cities need to be at the forefront of that.

Encouraging diversity of cities

Thankfully they are doing so in increasing numbers. The diversity of cities is being matched by a diversity in its projects tackling climate change.

The Kibera Public Space Project in Nairobi, Kenya is one such scheme. Some 2.5 million slum dwellers across 200 settlements share only 6% of the land despite accounting for 60% of the city’s population. A quarter of a million people live in Kibera, making it the biggest slum in Africa and one of the biggest in the world.

COVID-19 has shown how we can change how we live and work for the greater good.

The project has created spaces across the slum that gives citizens access to safe, affordable water and sanitation. One site in Andolo Village installed gabions and drainage to protect it from floods. But it also built a playground, shaded seating areas, an area for laundry and a community space; a demonstration of how fighting climate change can bring communities closer together, creating greater job opportunities, economic security and social ties.

In Argentina, the city of Rosario transformed empty lots into agricultural plots, producing 2,500 tonnes of fruit and vegetables per year and tended to by more than 2,400 families. Other underused areas were transformed into green spaces that help prevent flooding, a necessity in a city where record-breaking rainfall in 2007 forced the evacuation of more than 3,000 people.

Hyperlocal, hyper sustainable

COVID-19 has shown how we can change how we live and work for the greater good. The rise in homeworking could lead to a transformation of how commercial buildings are used, bringing diversity back into city centres and opening them up for hyperlocal businesses.

Paris mayor Anne Hildago’s plans for Paris to be a 15 Minute City, where everything you need from coffee shops to schooling is on your doorstep, could become the norm as citizens look to strengthen local ties and shy away from a city’s more egregious carbon offenders.

This year’s COP26 will put further pressure on cities lagging behind in the race to net zero. They have plenty of places to look to for inspiration.

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