We are currently living in an era that represents a tipping point. Scientists agree that if we do not change the way we live, our lifestyle will have irreversible consequences on the environment.
The struggle for a sustainable future will be won, or lost, in cities. As of today, more than half of the global population lives in cities, and this number is only getting bigger. Humans are concentrating more and more in cities and will need to invest even more money to provide generations to come a more sustainable future.
According to San-Francisco based architect Peter Calthorpe, as of 2050, 3 billion people will be living in cities. “So much depends on how we shape our cities, not just environmental impacts, but our social well-being, our economic vitality and our sense of community. Fundamentally, the way we shape cities is a manifestation of the kind of humanity we bring to bare,” said Calthorpe in a 2017 TEDTalk.
When going green becomes crucial
Vancouver has promised to make environmental issues one if its priority. By 2050, the city’s goals is to run on 100 percent renewable energy.
Interviewed by WWF International, Gregor Robertson, the Mayor of Vancouver said “When I first campaigned for Mayor in 2008, one of my key priorities was to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. (…) So we put together ten targets in water, food, clean air, green business, green jobs, reducing our carbon, reducing our consumption and zero waste.”
As a result of the initiatives, green jobs were raised by 19 %, water usage reduced by 18%, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased significantly as more and more Vancouver residents use public transit or bicycles to get around the city.
According to Andrea Reimer, deputy mayor for the city of Vancouver, what has enabled the city of Vancouver to achieve its objectives is the collective effort between the government, citizens, business and the community.
Making efforts at the community level to make a city greener causes changes that may seem small but ultimately make a difference, as seen with the city of Vancouver.
An Italian architecture firm named Stefano Boeri Architetti has made it its mission to transform the way we live in cities. They are world leaders in the design of buildings and… vertical forests.
In 2007, the firm designed a building in the center of Milan in Italy that appears to have come out of a Star Wars movie. The residential building is composed of two towers of 116 and 85 meters and inhabits 700 trees and over 20.000 plants.
The plants absorb approximately 19.000 kg of carbon dioxide per year and produce 18.980 kg of oxygen per year, which means 52 kg per day. In addition, they provide moisture and absorb dust particles, making the air cleaner and reducing heat losses by 2 degrees.
The firm has other bigger projects, such as designing a city in China entirely made of vertical forests. The 342-acre Liuzhou Forest City will have 70 buildings which will all be covered with about 40.000 trees and approximately a million plants. The trees will be able to absorb over 10.000 tons of carbon dioxide and produce 900 tons of oxygen every year.
“(This is) the first experiment of the urban environment that’s really trying to find a balance with nature. I really think that bringing forests into the city is a way to reduce climate change,” said Stefano Boeri. The city will be able to welcome over 30.000 people. Constructions will begin in 2020.
A carbon negative country
Chances are, you haven’t heard of Bhutan, a country that stands out because it has the particularity of being the only carbon negative country. Its unique location is partly at the origin of this particular feature.
Situated in the Himalayas, between India and China, Bhutan emits around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, and its forests absorb over 6 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Despite this unique achievement, Bhutan is seeking to further improve its relationship with the environment. Renewable energy, zero-waste and growing 100 percent organic food are amongst the country’s future priorities.
The people of Bhutan seem to have found a balance between city and nature that is sustainable for the future of their country. In 2016, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay shared some of his country’s innovations in a TEDTalk, hoping to promote healthy lifestyle habits in other parts of the world.