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Four Lesser-Known Global Urban Sustainability Projects.
By Ashley Halligan, an analyst at Software Advice, an Austin-based company.
Cities across the globe face the sizeable challenges of economic, ecological and societal sustainability in an era of increasingly urban consumption and production. Where governments are failing to adequately respond to natural and social threats, local authorities prove benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by developing demonstrative city projects. Here are four cities with dramatically different climates and design initiatives that the world should know about, and be inspired by.
Medellin, Colombia has always been considered one of, if not the most violent city in the world–poisoned with an underpinning of a dangerous drug cartel. However, it’s been making big strides in the past year, and was even awarded the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award alongside San Francisco by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.
Since installing a creative and innovative escalator system that connects Medellin’s poorest neighborhood, Comuna 13, to the city center, crime rates have started to fall–and the city overall has adopted mass transit options for the city’s residents that mimic initiatives of forward-moving international cities. A recent article on ecoimagination mentions Oslo, Norway as an example–boasting more than two-thirds of its municipality being agricultural land and protected waterways and forest. Whilst in the U.S., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon have long been recognized as ‘green’ metropoli.
With a public bicycle system and a rideshare program, residents now have far more transportation options. Modeled after Santiago’s bike-share program, Medellin has supplied the city with 160 bikes that can be used for increments of 30 minutes. In regards to its new rideshare program, “Medellin pioneered the use of cable cars as a transit alternative in low-income informal settlements in hilly areas, moving 3,000 passengers per hour per direction; a real breakthrough now being replicated in Caracas and Rio de Janeiro,” said EMBARQ Director Holger Dalkmann.
Medellin is a great example of how improvement initiatives can lead to more than positive environmental impact. In this case, there’s also been an immense social impact. According to Audi’s Urban Future Initiative Project, “A common thread that ran through all the mayor’s concerns was public safety [in both Philadelphia--below--and Medellin]. This might seem a strange pit stop on the way to a greener city, but Mayor Fetterman of Braddock [a small town in Pennsylvania] was very clear: ‘Public safety underpins everything that you do in a city. Every mayor on the panel had a brilliant record of reducing crime and violence in their cities. Medellin’s crime rate has dropped by 90% since Mayor Fajardo took over, and Braddock hasn’t had a homicide in two years.”
Naples, Italy, another city well-known for its lingering trash crisis and dangerous neighborhoods, has taken an immense social approach to overcoming the filth and violence to create a clean, safe city.
Resident Neapolitans and world organizations like Let’s do it! World, hosting World Cleanup 2012 have come together taking drastic measures to address the trash crisis, cleaning up neighborhoods and city parks with guerrilla gardening groups and flash mobs ready to collect and dispose of trash and beautify the city.
In September 2012, Naples will be one of 94 global cities to participate in World Cleanup 2012, with a focus on the devastated environment surrounding Mount Vesuvius, which has become the city’s dump for litter and industrial waste. Mostly blamed on the Camorra, Neapolitans are taking a major step forward in re-beautifying and restoring their city.
Far from the historic foundations of European cities, fresh foundations are being laid on swampland in Songdo, South Korea–a city designed and built atop swampland 40 miles outside of Seoul by Kohn Pederson Fox, first opened in August 2009.
The entire city, including South Korea’s tallest building, meets and exceeds LEED standards whose scores are based on the following categories (see vii): Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation & Design, and Regional Priority. The first LEED-certified neighborhood in the country, the city’s designers also thoughtfully included 40 percent space open, and surrounds a Central Park rivaling that of New York City’s.
Boasting state-of-the-art transportation Songdo’s creators infused the entire project with practical initiatives. In the design phase, Kohn Pederson Fox established underground parking, or parking beneath canopies to “minimize the urban heat island effect and maximize pedestrian-oriented open space above ground.” There’s also 25 kilometers of designated bicycle lanes, and 5 percent of parking capacity is reserved for low-emission vehicles.
Demonstrating a significant commitment to becoming ‘green’, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is raising the bar for sustainability in U.S. cities. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy declared Philadelphia a “Solar America City,” observing “both a compelling need and an important opportunity to accelerate solar application” in the city. It was that declaration that determined Mayor Mike Nutter to unleash a series of 14 initiatives in an effort to make Philadelphia “America’s greenest city” over a six-year project period.
Among these initial goals, Nutter plans to lower governmental energy consumption by 30%, double the number of green jobs, and divert 70% of solid waste from area landfills. Philadelphia’s SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) is also implementing huge efforts to lower their energy usage with a project they’re just rolling out: the Wayside Energy Storage Project. The project will introduce batteries capable of capturing energy through regenerative braking in their mass transit system–which can then be stored and used for later usage.
These cities all represent vastly different approaches to sustainability efforts–and, with that, serve as inspiration the world over. Any city really can adopt a sustainability plan–cities can be made over despite their current condition. Having cities as examples of filth, trash-ridden, or crime centers and drug meccas demonstrate that any city can adopt an environmental effort that can improve their local ecosystems, display a sense of environmental consciousness, and even have a social impact.
Some large global cities are known for their intense carbon footprint, but Songdo shows us that cities and developments can be crafted with sustainability as the central focus. Either way, new cities on the eco-awareness radar are showing the world that collectively, thoughtfulness and innovation can change the landscape of the world we inhabit.
Do you know about a particular sustainability initiative that deserves more public attention? If so, feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.
Photo of Montreal, Canada courtesy of Seth Moser-Katz.
Photo of Medellin, Colombia courtesy of Medelin’s Office of the Mayor.
Photo of Naples, Italy courtesy of the author, Ashley Halligan.
Photo of Songdo, South Korea courtesy of welix.
Photo of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) courtesy of K. Ciappa for GPTMC.
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