Rapid urbanization, population growth, pollution, increased food and water demand, integrating renewable energy and electric mobility… The challenges facing cities are tremendous and it is precisely at the local level that the greatest changes need to be made.

During the Future of Cities Forum, 29-31 October, mayors, city councillors and urban planners from around the world gathered to discuss ideas and exchange solutions to address the issues facing sustainable urban development.

Source: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr

Source: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr

Ideas Worth Sharing

The forum took place in Munich because of its target of 100% renewable electricity by 2025. Innovative examples were presented during the event including a visit to Ackermannbogen. This residential area utilizes solar power for district heating and nearly 50% of its heat demand is covered by solar collectors.

Peter Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council, presented his city’s Low-Carbon Living Strategy which helps citizens, communities and businesses cut their carbon emissions. For any major developments in the city a sustainable construction plan is required and it must incorporate high energy efficiency, 10% renewable energy and carbon neutrality/offsetting.

“In the last ten years we’ve grown a third, in the next ten years we’ll grow another third,” said Peter Marland. “A challenge is an opportunity and we’re one of the few cities who will actually reduce our carbon footprint by what we said we would.”

Milton Keynes - Witan Gate. Source: Krzysztof Pawliszak/Flickr

Milton Keynes – Witan Gate. Source: Krzysztof Pawliszak/Flickr

In Figueres, Spain, the municipality has implemented their own strategy to ensure their city becomes more sustainable. By 2020, they aim to reduce citizens’ CO2 emissions by 18% through initiatives like banning cars from the city center, introducing energy efficient buildings and introducing technology that can help monitor energy use.

“Our ultimate goal is for citizens to share energy so that our sources become completely self-sufficient,” said Pere Giró, Councillor for Environment and Youth, Figueres. “The Imagine project has enabled citizens to reach our objectives for sustainable and renewable energy.”

Figures and Milton Keynes are two out of eight pilot cities from the Imagine initiative. The aim behind this scheme is to assist cities, their stakeholders and citizens to evaluate and implement changes that are needed to reach low-carbon goals.

Source: Imagine/Energy Cities

The eight pilot countries involved in Imagine. Source: Imagine/Energy Cities

“I am very impressed with what has been delivered by the eight cities and the different partners in the project,” said Claire Roumet, Executive Director, Energy Cities. “I hope it will inspire many other cities because we want to spread the tools that have been designed.”

Challenges Ahead

Certain countries may be pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy, but they are still investing in fossil fuels. The success of sustainable urban development is dependent on political leaders making decisions to move towards a low-carbon economy.

Whether municipalities invest in renewables or build energy efficient house or introduce electric buses, cities will have to incorporate many initiatives to successful move away from fossil fuels. One proposed approach was to make appropriate use of existing resources in cities.

“We need to look at the infrastructure we have and not expand on it until we fully utilize all that capacity,” said Neville Mars, Director of Mars Architects. “We can still make money, move forward, provide housing, and create industry – all within the existing footprint of current cities.”

The Future Cities Forum showcased that there are solutions. Many governments, citizens and business are innovating, but it’s clear they cannot do it alone. With the world’s urban population already reaching 3.9 billion, it is imperative that they pursue sustainability together.