Developments in Urbanism and City functionality to watch in 2012
20 February 2012
This latest UIN article seeks to explore some of the urban trends and challenges that might be realised in 2012.
Better connected cities:
Innovations in social media and mobile Internet provide people with instantaneous information on city services, statistics, transport and business links. New apps, such as ‘Streetline’ analyse city data to provide up-to date and accurate information on the best available parking spots. Apps such as these mean cities will possess better interconnectivity than ever, leading to smarter city knowledge, awareness and decision making. Informed city residents will not only enjoy the benefits of these advancements, but also actively drive on-going improvements in 2012.
A key challenge facing city authorities will be to take the lead regarding the social and environmental sustainability agenda. Transparency will be key to success and will be driven by the on-going advancements in city connectivity discussed in the previous paragraph. An encouraging number of cities are starting to measure and publicly disclose sustainability performance data, such as energy usage and carbon emissions. Earlier this year, 38 cities made their sustainability data public and the figure is expected to grow in 2012 as cities become increasingly aware of the need to meet competitive global standards. This action should encourage a greater desire to reduce waste and improve city efficiency, leading to considerable quality of life benefits.
Green city economies:
A new global study released on the 24 January by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group found that 31% of companies agreed that sustainability is contributing to their profits, while 70% placed sustainability permanently on their management agenda. Public/private partnership incentives such as the much discussed implementation of low cost solar energy implementation schemes on buildings in US cities will be key to building on this progress. With the cost of fuel on the rise, the scheme is genuinely cost effective for the end user and represents a win-win for cities and businesses alike. The City of Copenhagen has set a real benchmark going in to 2012 by committing to carbon neutrality by 2025. Major Frank Jensen recently spoke of the role of cities as growth engines and the potential for the city to stimulate the economy through clean-tech innovation. This is a bold target and represents a model other European cities should be looking to follow this year.
City challenges: how can cities live within their means?
Just as crucial as social and environmental sustainability is the exercise of financial caution, with cities across Europe facing another challenging year in 2012. Eurozone debt woes continue to blight the continents economic picture. Consequentially, city budgets are likely to be restrictive, placing more pressure on city authorities to be ‘smart’. The issue facing authorities looking to implement new and innovative programmes that support social and environmental change is the hefty price tag that accompanies such action. Madrid stands as a pertinent example of the perils associated with pursuing a highly leveraged and aggressive development strategy. This has had disastrous consequences for the Spanish economy and should serve as a reminder for other European cities looking to pursue similar policies.
The catalyst behind many of these urban trends has been the severity of the economic situation. This has forced a global re-appraisal of social, environmental and financial attitudes towards sustainability in cities. Social media and mobile technology have helped bring these issues to the fore and authorities are starting to tap into these outlets to establish a dialogue with residents on how improvements can be made. The very public nature of this information sharing has encouraged cities and local communities to be more responsive and drive sustainability agendas. This theme of information exchange has also manifested itself globally. Given cities face similar challenges and risks, many are working together to share what is and isn’t working. The globalising of city networks is encouraging, but additional steps must be taken. Improving economic prospects within European cities requires an investment in efficiency measures, the promotion of greater collaboration and a deep belief in the social and economic value of environmental sustainability.