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A City is a Community: Leading the Way Toward Sustainability

A look into how cities contribute to the advancement of sustainable development while addressing water, energy and waste issues.

Anthropogenic climate change requires the ability to look outside the box for solutions when it comes to planning and managing the unique complexities and challenges cities face. Cities seeking a sustainable framework must aim for environmental adaptation and escape the traditional unsustainable models now prevalent, where ¾ of climate change emissions originate from urban and suburban areas. Cities can lead the way in reducing carbon emissions via transformation into Smart Cities by approving or adapting new technologies and policies.

One documented example of sustainability is the beach city of Santa Monica in California. It has taken on the challenge to reach its goal of reducing emissions by 15% below 1990 levels by 2015. The city’s updated 15×15 Climate Action plan identifies the 15 measures and associated actions to reduce their emissions. Setting up numerical indicators helps to monitor progress toward achieving a city’s sustainability goals. When public can review progress of the city’s sustainable goals through the indicators, citizens are more likely to support the policies.

Energy efficiency whether through solar, wind or other resource efficient, low-carbon alternatives will drive sustainability. More than 2 million jobs have emerged in the renewable energy sector and are growing. Non-renewable energy use is the #1 contributor to human induced causes for climate change. Allowing for a biodiverse or net-zero developments, dictates a different approach. Climate responsive design uses technology as the generator in design, enabling buildings to alter their form to reflect environmental conditions. A tree bends in response to wind, Intelligent home will design windows that will respond to light by opening and closing. Smart innovation like home automation systems provide energy efficiency. When it comes to Best Practices in energy efficiency, cities can look to the leaders in Green Building, LEED. Cities can encourage these new smart technologies through incentives like reduce permit fees, or accelerating the permit process.

As cities look to be in balance with nature, consideration of open space, transportation, solid waste and the built environment are critical for economic development and healthy living. The land and physical environment in which cities will be built or adapted must first take into account both the size and the health of the local food shed and watersheds. Cities achieve their sustainability goals by proper city planning. Therefore, policies must be changed that redefine funds already stipulated for sprawl towards Resource Conservation (water, energy, waste) and transportation. Improving public transportation and making the cities more pedestrian friendly can reduce carbon emissions by up to 75%. Portland, Oregon through it MAX lines and transit mall makes it the 12th most walkable city in the United States. More walkable opportunities mean fewer fuel burning vehicles and healthier air quality. Furthermore, regulated water use is a low cost approach to water conservation. San Francisco, CA is Rethinking waste with its lofty goal to be at Zero Waste by 2020, turning its 600 tons a day of organics into rich compost to fertilize the regions’ agriculture.

The great challenge of our time is to bring human activities into harmony with the natural environment. A sustainable city provides a compelling framework where individuals and businesses can realign with nature. Cities’ contribution to the advancement of sustainable development requires a paradigm shift that incorporates innovative proven technology decreasing the ecological footprint, provide transportation-transit-bikes-walking infrastructures accessible and affordable to all, and reduces dependence on non-renewable energy sources by choosing alternative sources. Education, outreach, and incentives can induce citizens to embrace these practices. A smart city can show us how to make these shifts towards sustainability locally and globally, merging sustainability with practical values.


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