How sustainable neighbourhoods are the building blocks of green, climate-safe cities

This month, C40 is exploring what it takes to create a sustainable neighbourhood.  Anyone who lives in a city – no matter how big or small – knows that we experience the city through our local neighbourhoods: the places where we live, work and play. If mayors, urban planners, businesses and citizens can make these individual communities green, then they will be well on their way to making their city truly sustainable and resilient to the most devastating impacts of climate change.

More than half of today’s global population lives in cities, and this is growing rapidly.1  300 million people will move to Chinese cities within the next 20 years, and by 2030, 30% of C40 cities will have grown by a third of their current size. Urban planning happening now must accommodate for this projected influx of people; this provides the opportunity for cities to re-imagine urban development and provide affordable, sustainable, and adaptable housing. Creating sustainable cities starts with creating sustainable neighbourhoods.

Sustainable neighbourhoods are interconnected and collaborative. Urban sprawl costs the United States alone nearly $400 billion annually.2 Compare Houston and Barcelona, for example. Both cities have populations of around 2 million people, but Barcelona fits into one-tenth of the area of Houston. As a result, the emissions from Houston are several times greater than those of Barcelona. Whereas homes, businesses, and services are increasingly far apart in sprawling cities, sustainable neighbourhoods function like ecosystems. Each component of a sustainable neighbourhood – people, buildings, flora, fauna, street networks – operates as part of the greater whole. Sprawl increases infrastructure costs by 10% to 40%3 and intensifies a city’s carbon footprint, whereas population density lowers per capita emissions and reduces infrastructure costs. How do we make cities look more like Barcelona?  As our neighbourhoods get more compact and connected, we become more resilient.

Sustainable neighbourhoods also reflect the unique needs of their inhabitants and accommodate residential, commercial, and recreational uses. Connecting residents to the city centre via public transport, bikeways, and walkways could reduce private passenger vehicle travel by 20%.4 This has numerous benefits for citizens, protecting public health by improving air quality and encouraging people to walk or cycle instead of travel by car. Building transit-oriented cities could reduce annual GHG emissions by about 0.6 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of taking nearly 115 million cars off the road for an entire year. Considering that 70% of energy related GHG emissions come from cities, sustainable neighbourhood planning at the local level will indisputably have a massive global impact.

Cities around the world are already working to create healthier and more compact communities, from a plan to transform Toronto’s waterfront district, to a proposed bicycle highway in Bogotá.

Through the Climate Positive Development Program, C40 is supporting cities worldwide in developing and implementing large-scale projects with the goal of achieving a ‘climate positive’ emissions target. 19 projects are currently pursuing this goal, and are living laboratories proving the benefits of such strategic planning and implementation. This ‘climate positive’ target pushes communities to go beyond achieving net-zero GHG emissions and to develop mechanisms for beginning to offset the emissions of neighboring communities.

Cities are where the future happens first. Creativity and innovation flourish when citizens feel connected and empowered – could a neighbourhood produce its own energy? Thrive without cars? Revitalize local ecosystems? Be a stimulus for jobs, health, and food systems? Sustainable neighbourhoods can.

So stay tuned to C40’s social media channels throughout July, for updates from the EcoCity Conference in Melbourne where C40 will be sharing our vison for sustainable resilient cities. C40 is also hosting a series of workshops this month on Low Carbon Districts and Transit Orientated Development. So you can expect more facts, statistics, insights from mayors and real world examples of how cities are creating the sustainable neighbourhoods that form the building blocks of climate-safe cities.

 

1 Atlas of Urban Expansion 2016 Volume 1

2 New Climate Economy, Cities Chapter

3 New Climate Economy

4 Carbon Lock-in Due to Urban Development, Stockholm Environmental Institute, 2015