5 emerging trends for climate-resilient smart cities

Populations are growing and urban areas are expanding. If UN projections are correct, in 2050 there will be over 6 billion people living in cities, roughly two out of every three people on the planet. Planning cities now and in the future demands new ideas and innovative thinking in order to accommodate this unprecedented growth, provide the necessary resources, and ensure sustainability in an uncertain future. How do we achieve this?

The recent Sustainable Cities Conference, hosted by IHS Erasmus and the SUSTAIN Project at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, highlighted possible solutions focused on education and knowledge sharing in the field of urban planning. Five key themes recurred throughout the two days.

City-to-city learning and sharing best practices

City-to-city information sharing is an important way for cities to learn from each other, while adapting best practices to their local context. For example, the City of Gothenburg (Sweden) partnered with the City of New Orleans (US) to exchange ideas and best practices based on their similarities, as part of the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction “Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready” campaign.

Cities can also learn from each other through urban indicators. Data is in growing demand for city managers, and can serve as a basis for city-to-city learning. One such indicator was presented by Nico Tillie of the World Council on City Data, known as the ISO 31720 – Sustainable Development of Communities, Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life.

Working with local communities and understanding the local context

Engaging local communities in city planning is vital to build a community that can further sustain resilience. Dr. Talat Munshi of CEPT University in India showed how, in order to account for the rate of growth and the urban transitions, some practices from Europe need to be adapted to local contexts in developing regions. In India, urban areas are growing like never before as people flee rural poverty, and this social dynamic must be considered when planning Indian cities.

Rotterdam itself provided an interesting example of working with local communities, where the city works with citizens and households to promote local sustainability initiatives. Rotterdam has used a neighbourhood approach as a basis for action, focusing on the needs and desires of the Rotterdammers.

Sustainability demands a cross-cutting approach

Achieving sustainable and resilient cities requires collaborative and cross-cutting approaches. As John Batten, Global Director of Cities at Arcadis, put it, “Cities are their own unique ecosystems, living and growing entities … these ecosystems work best when economic, social, transport and utility infrastructure operate together efficiently and in harmony. In essence, when resiliency is at work.

“Planners are the glue in the city”

Daniele Vettorato, of the EURAC Research Centre in Bolzano (Italy) highlighted this important concept. Urban planners are the glue in the city, with the power to activate the cross-sectoral approach that is needed to achieve sustainable and resilient cities through understanding the languages of other experts and bringing them together to establish a common vision. It’s up to urban planners and professionals to work with a diverse range of stakeholders in order to drive knowledge and action synergies required in urban areas.

“Cities have transformative power as urban labs”

Cities are knowledge and innovation hubs, and we can use this to our advantage. One example of this was the Rotterdam Solar-Powered Floating Pavilion. This experimental climate resilient project enabled the developers to gather evidence and learning outcomes on a range of ideas previously not considered. Experimenting in cities can achieve positive outcomes, but also demonstrate problems and raising questions yet to be answered. This is a part of a necessary process, where learning by doing is a fundamental part of adaptive, flexible and resilient planning.