Cities are home to over half of the world’s population, all chock and block together, and it’s this concentration of people that provide the best ideas to reduce climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. While we don’t have a universally accepted definition for what makes a city green, most ranking systems include environmental impact per person, renewable energy generation, green spaces, and recycling programs. None of these take into consideration the most crucial element, the people who live there. Many cities have already adopted urban farming, e-mobility, non-motorized transport, and are exploring zero-emission buildings. Investments in green technology can further accelerate these developments and build more resilient and inclusive cities. At the same time, sustainable urban design and planning can help create a strategic infrastructure to harness the benefits of nature-based solutions.
Today, there are around 200 million city-dwellers in over 350 cities that live with summer temperature highs of over 35°C (95°F). This poses a serious threat to people’s overall health and livelihoods and our economies overall, with cities having a long tradition of reinventing themselves that brought the introduction of sewage systems, public parks, and housing regulations to reduce overcrowding and improve sanitation. Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park is a prime example of connecting an urban area with nature-based strategies that meet at the crossroads of health and climate goals. The park’s creative design reduces risks of flooding by absorbing and storing water, which will then be used for irrigation in the dry season. Meanwhile, Medellin in Colombia has embraced wildlife-friendly habitats as a cooling solution through its ‘Green Corridors’ project, transforming 18 roads into lush, green havens that provide cool shade for all as well as a refuge for animals. The project has reduced the average temperature in Medellin by 2-3°C while improving air quality and biodiversity. Cities around the globe are working together to recover through urban investments that can promote integrated, compact, mixed-use cities that reduce the distance between the place of work and place of residence. The regeneration of green spaces, rethinking urban mobility, and promoting public and non-motorized transport, investing in retrofitting buildings to reduce inequalities, will help improve well-being and create more jobs. We still have a long way to go to make our cities green, but the competition of cities vying for first place is a good thing.