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Cities and sustainable development: what is coming next?

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Message Arthur Ward

It is still very new but city planners now have the technology to shift to a more sustainable urbanization. A quick look at the state of the industry today is enough to suggest what urban sustainability might look like in the near future.

"The environment is now very close to the top of the political agenda in many countries," wrote M. J. Breheny in 1992 in the European research in regional science (1). "The question is: can cities be planned in such a way as to be more energy efficient?" More than ever before, that question is topical. Decades after Breheny wrote his article, cities remained "major consumers of energy and generators of pollution". Something changed however. Technology is now able to bring answers to our questions, along with some features of the sustainable cities to come.


A booming market

"According to the U.N. Habitat, the world's cities emit almost 80 percent of global carbon dioxide as well as "significant amounts of other greenhouse gases", writes CNN, "despite only representing 2 percent of the world's surface area, they are responsible for 75 percent of the world's energy consumption." Cities are the biggest natural resource consumers today. And given that such resources are rarer and rarer, efficient ways to spare them and use them better cannot spring up outside an urban perspective. Besides, they are many ways to make the city's life less resources-consuming today.

"Intelligent traffic solutions, green buildings, water management, and smart grid infrastructure are just a few of the technologies helping to steer today's urbanization toward sustainability", says Siemens on its corporate website. As a major engineering and electronics conglomerate, the German giant could hardly afford ignoring the issue of sustainable development today. Actually most of its competitors of the same size have also started offering engineering solutions regarded that subject since the beginning of the 2000's.

For instance, smart grid weighed for $10.3 billion revenue for General Electric in 2008. GE is able to offer a comprehensive range of smart grid-related services to city planners. Repair, emission testing, smart grid deployment, plant operation, emissions reductions, emissions control, can all be performed by GE and the company advertise its expertise almost like a counseling service. "Our technology can help city planners to ensure that city infrastructure and development respond to the needs of citizens today" the company says.   It seems that the sustainable urban market has already reached quite a high level of demand and skills.

Towards sustainable cities

However, there is no need to be a giant to be part of the winning game. Corning Cable systems complete the work of firms like IBM on the market of intelligent traffic systems (ITS). Corning recorded significant success in the field of ITS. For instance, Madrid Barajas International Airport installed a complete LANscape Solution. LANscape comprises an extensive set of hardware design to deploy ITS solution. In other word, Corning design the whole ITS cable network for the airport and gave it the material basis for it to monitor and control the activity of the whole facility. This way, Barajas Airport expects to reduce movements of people and vehicles, and decrease energy consumption in parking lots as much as in plane terminals and landing strips.

Cities depend more and more on businesses like Corning.   For each of the matters city-planners have to deal with, there is a worldwide reference known to them.   Waste management, which is of paramount importance to municipalities, is bettered around the world by CNIM, the French engineering company, renowned for its capacity to simultaneously reduce the waste and increase energy production.   A substantial share of the biomass plants powering Great-Britain, one of the green energy leading countries, comes from CNIM engineering. Azerbaïdjan, which has recently engaged in the green economy race in an energetic way, called upon CNIM to develop the state-of-the-art Balikhani waste-to-energy plant. It was therafter able to simultaneously absorb 500 000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every year, whilst feeding 231 kWh/y into the city.


Moreover, there is no need to be international to play a significant part in defining the urban side of sustainability. On the local scale too, there are plenty of skillful firms with specific talents for designing sustainable solutions. In the U.S.A., for instance, Kiss + Cathcart have been using sustainable technologies for creating buildings since 1983. Back in those days, architects Gregory Kiss and Colin Cathcart designed professional facilities, like factories, featuring solar panels. Pioneering the sustainable building market, they were entrusted with bigger and bigger project. Lately Kiss + Cathcart was given the task to renovate Coney Island's Stillwell Avenue subway terminal in New York. Kiss + Cathcart gave the building a second life, designing a new concave shell covered in solar panels and opened on the side for greater circulation of light and air.

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Arthur Ward, computer engineer, writers at times. I am found of my job and technology in general. I write about innovation and sustainable development.

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