How cities build, design and power their infrastructure significantly impacts residents’ daily lives and cities’ carbon footprints
Buildings alone contribute to 35% of cities’ emissions. That figure jumps to 70% in some Global North C40 cities due to the energy used to power, heat or cool buildings.
Today’s urban planning decisions will affect future generations’ quality of life and cities’ emissions. Only by adopting a sustainable approach to urban planning can cities meet their climate targets.
Keep reading to learn about city action that is speeding up the transition to more sustainable urban development, helping cities reduce their emissions while creating cleaner and healthier places to live.
Engaging Cape Town’s residents to create resilient homes
Cape Town used public engagement to promote net-zero carbon targets and educate locals on sustainable living principles. Alongside the Green Building Council of South Africa, the city led an urban design competition as part of the Cape Town Future Energy Festival. The competition was open to students and built environment professionals; 13 unique projects were part of the competition.
The winning design, My Clean Green Home, is a modular ‘house in a box’ covered by a tree-like structure made from 85 upcycled shipping pallets and two shipping containers. It incorporates rainwater harvesting, solar power generation, passive cooling, and an edible food garden. The house is now permanently displayed in the Experiential Garden at the Green Point Urban Park, serving as a tool to generate awareness around sustainable living and carbon neutrality goals.
Visitors to the exhibit or the festival’s Facebook page have made pledges to implement sustainable practices in their homes, highlighting how this city initiative has encouraged residents to take action for a more resilient Cape Town.
Barcelona’s Superblock revitalises communities
In 2016 Barcelona launched its Superblock programme, a visionary initiative to make the city’s spaces and streets greener and more resilient. The Superblock programme prioritises pedestrians by closing roads to through traffic and creating more space for residents to live, work and enjoy. The aim was to create healthier, more equitable and safer areas while promoting community interactions and the local economy.
The first Superblock was implemented in Poblenou, which increased pedestrianised areas by 80%. Accessible green space increased by 91%, with the creation of new playgrounds for children contributing to the new public space. The areas in Poblenou accessed by cars decreased by 48%, and the number of vehicles within the area dropped also by 58%.
Additionally, due to the increased public access in the area, the number of businesses that operated on ground floor levels in Poblenou grew from 65 to 85, helping to revitalise the local economy.
Improving energy efficiency and expanding clean construction in Fuzhou
Fuzhou actively participated in the C40 Cities China Buildings Programme as a pilot city from 2018–2020. The city has launched 65 building projects that utilise renewable energy, introduced supporting policies and relevant technical guidelines, and vigorously promoted the application of high-efficiency air source heat pump technology in the construction of new buildings and renovation of existing buildings.
These actions significantly improved the use of renewable energy, such as solar heat and solar power. By the end of 2020, Fuzhou’s energy-saving building areas covered 4.79 million square metres, reducing carbon emissions by 30,700 tonnes per year, effectively reducing air pollution, and keeping Fuzhou’s air quality in the top three of China’s provincial capitals.
Mayor of Fuzhou, Xiande Wu, said that Fuzhou will make every effort to prioritise high-quality, ecological and low-carbon developments, focusing on adjusting energy structures, optimising industrial structures, and building green cities. The goal of these actions is to strive to make new and greater contributions to China’s goal of carbon peak and carbon neutrality, and jointly contribute to combating climate change and implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Addressing urban sprawl and boosting housing in Portland
In August 2020, Portland adapted its urban planning codes to open up space in the city for new construction projects. The changes encourage the development of unused land and redevelopment of underutilised spaces to help manage rapid expansion of the city area and associated carbon emissions while addressing the need for affordable housing.
By making it easier to build new homes in less densely populated neighbourhoods, more than 1,200 homes have been constructed yearly since August 2021, increasing the city’s annual house-building by approximately 20%. It is estimated this has led to a 12% reduction in median rent prices.
These changes align with Portland’s 2015 Climate Action Plan, which set a 2030 ‘Complete Neighbourhoods’ goal to improve conditions for locals by ensuring that 80% of residents can easily access all their basic daily needs safely on foot, bicycle or public transport.
Improving Bogotá residents’ health and safety through neighbourhood planning
Bogotá is using urban planning and design policies to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities while reducing emissions.
The city’s ‘Vital Neighbourhoods’ programme aims to improve public spaces and make streets safer for people. One key example includes the pilot ‘children’s priority zones’ near childcare centres in low-income districts. Measures introduced in the zones include traffic-calming, a “play-streets” programme, pop-up parks, more seating, improved crossings, sidewalks and green space, and signage to designate the areas as child-friendly.
The city is also constructing ‘Care Blocks’ to develop people-focused urban planning in Bogotá. This programme focuses on the needs of caregivers, particularly women, by creating care systems around schools and community centres. The goal is to improve access to education, health services, recreational activities and language learning opportunities for people with disabilities, older people, and women on low incomes.
Investing in Copenhagen’s clean energy future
Copenhagen has been investing in initiatives to reduce energy use across the city. Energy Leap, a network of the largest building owners in Copenhagen, has received support from the city and is targeting a 3% annual energy reduction in all buildings.
The network includes 46 partners, accounting for approximately 26% of the total building stock in Copenhagen. The city has a 40% energy reduction goal in municipal buildings by 2025 (compared to 2010). In 2020 Copenhagen was halfway towards reaching this goal. Actions included:
- The adoption of building management systems.
- The undertaking of a large number of refurbishments.
- The installation of a comprehensive energy surveillance system in all municipal buildings.
By collecting hourly energy data from across the city and tracking the performance of completed projects, Copenhagen has developed a business case for further refurbishment. The city trains staff in the energy-efficient operation of its buildings and leads C40’s Municipal Building Efficiency Network.
Incentivising clean construction in Medellín
Medellín is using policies and incentives to reduce emissions from construction in the city and improve the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings. The latest guidance in Medellin’s Sustainable Construction Manual advises developers how to recycle waste from demolition and construction, and how to switch to sustainable building materials that emit fewer pollutants.
Approximately 18,000 new homes are built annually, and for developers that adopt the manual, a tax incentive is available under the Municipal Tax Statute. The tax deduction ranges from 2–10% depending on the fulfilment of criteria related to water and energy savings, solid waste reduction, and other emissions-reducing areas. As a result, the use of passive design measures that contribute to reducing emissions has increased in new buildings. Examples include using more absorbent materials for ventilation, natural lighting, and deploying solar panels and LEDs.
The city also established a sustainable construction database to track permitted buildings, their floor area, and CO2 equivalent emissions. Improvement work on existing municipal buildings to improve their energy efficiency – including carrying out energy audits and upgrading energy systems – led to an average energy saving of 22%.