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In his novel New York 2140, Kim Stanley paints a sad but scientifically plausible picture of the world to come. As climate change has caused sea level rise, the Big Apple looks like a giant version of Venice.
The people who have stayed there live in the main skyscraper stories and are forced to constantly check their buildings for leaks. They navigate the canals of the city during their daily trips.
Mere fantasy? Barely. Hundreds of other coastal towns and cities around the world that may not even make it onto the maps of the next century. Meanwhile, higher ground, like mountainous regions, could see an influx of newcomers from all over the world.
The challenges posed by climate change will merge with others, such as population growth, declining biodiversity, and other issues, all stacked on top of one another. Still, we can still address all of these issues and also make sustainable cities a reality. What would they look like if we were successful?
VISIONS FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Some of the great ideas come from the winners of the Reinventing Cities competition, with striking examples of “carbon-resistant and carbon-resistant urban regeneration”. Created through innovative collaborations of architects, developers, authorities and activists, these 16 solutions present a burgeoning diversity of green urban futures.
A project for the afterlife by a group of architects from Oslo presents elegant green architecture entirely based on the principles of a circular economy and maximum reuse of materials. The urban area will feature a mix of residential and commercial spaces, while seeking to achieve a 90% reduction in emissions compared to regular buildings.
It will also guarantee that 50% of the spaces are dedicated to the public with the loss of gardens, beehives, oranges and other biodiversity hotspots. These planned urban venues will include a hub for sustainable startups focused on climate change, while their founders will also work to promote green living habits among residents.
Equally inspiring is the Living Landscape project from Reykjavík, Iceland. Its passive mixed-use building is designed to guarantee a positive impact on the environment with a very diverse community of plants in its surroundings, with green spaces occupying 75% of the area. Developed on the site of a previously polluting industrial zone, the building will also serve as an example of an ambitious sustainability transformation and the largest timber construction in Iceland by far.
In the near future, thriving neighborhoods will be linked to larger green urban networks and shaped by AI. The technician will notify residents of all relevant parameters and instabilities in urban ecosystems and will ensure rapid adaptability to changing conditions. And to improve resilience, we will teach cities to absorb excess water like sponges, while our buildings will be able to regenerate after minor earthquakes thanks to self-healing materials.
Among other characteristics of future sustainable cities will be roads and pavements that produce electricity and huge walls of moss that clean the air more effectively than any other amount of vegetation. These cities will also maximize the benefits of hybrid renewable energy systems, while some of them might even be energy positive. An example of this is the airport city of Oslo, which will be built near the capital of Norway. Thanks to more welcoming urban designs, we can also offer better accessibility, greater safety and lower rates of airborne illness.
MAKING THE FUTURE REAL
But let's get back to New York 2140. No matter how much we would like things to turn out well, we should still be prepared for the worst. In the case of New York, viable solutions could include ideas for floating sustainable cities developed by Bjarke Ingels, which will withstand any rise in sea level.
The future of our cities will ultimately depend on how we choose to shape our cities today. His destiny will be how we, as citizens, live our lives, show respect for all life on Earth, and contribute to solutions that create a better world.
Fortunately, the options are many. They include a host of solutions by participating in urban experiments and asking local authorities to improve sustainability action for urban gardening and the switch to bicycles. Each of those options is important and together they have a great impact if each of us accepts responsibility for the cities we inhabit.