I really think that with the advent and access of technology, societies are beginning to be much more environmentally conscious than it was just a short while ago. But our world of material abundance comes with a hidden price tag. Many experts such as Julia Hudson believe that for every green city initiative and clean-fuel city bus there seem to be ten cities struggling with smog, water pollution, and congestion.
As Special Consultant for the Sustainable Cities Collective, David Thorpe has spent years deciphering where our urban areas are headed and what he sees as the major steps for the future. Looking around at modern cities, it can be hard to tell whether they’ve embraced the need to for efficient, clean, and data-driven development, or whether we are all still at the beginning of a long road. A major key to modern urban planning is short-distance transport, since it’s what most city-dwellers encounter daily. “There is more and more awareness of the need to plan for walkability and cyclability in cities,” says Thorpe, which benefits health, congestion, and air quality. “As cities spread, we need to think of hubs, and how local services can be provided at these hubs. This reduces the need to commute or travel in the first place.” Commuting distances, congestion tolls, and electric vehicle charging stations are examples of how we can evolve to the next stage. But if you must drive You can have a tremendous impact on your finances and the environment by rethinking
your means of transportation. The 2007 UN Human Development Report claimed that 30% of greenhouse gas emissions came from the automotive sector in developed countries. Improving what and how you drive will save money and make a difference to the planet.Ultimately, the complex systems that characterize dense cities require efficient linkages which reduce friction, and thus waste. These smaller and more specialized transit options are greatly enhanced by today’s collaborative, or sharing, economy. “It reduces the difference and the distance between consumers and producers since, in truth, every one of us embodies both. As consumers we are not passive, we are active and we want to participate in our world. Whatever we do, we produce value. A collaborative economy harnesses this value and makes the most of it,” explains Thorpe.
There are communication hurdles to be overcome on the road to a green future; when city departments have different goals and reporting structures, bureaucracy can overwhelm the project. “Departments need to talk to each other, and life-cycle analysis needs to be applied across the board so that there are overall environmental, carbon and cost savings.” He gives the example of a public finance department, which should add in the real value of better public health, more jobs, and other benefits when making the case for investors to commit to projects. “Successful sustainable projects happen when those at the top, in government, and those at the grassroots work together instead of against each other.”
It appears that the most pressing challenges in green development are not technological ones, but organizational. “We already have all the ideas and inventions that are needed to make cities sustainable,” says Thorpe, going on to offer some advice to the younger generation, who may be considering taking up the mantle. “Everywhere that you see successful projects, it’s because charismatic individuals have been able to bring people together with an inspiring vision. Young people also need to bring rigour, so they can use proven established standards to establish baselines and measure progress accurately. It’s no good saying or assuming that something is sustainable, you have to prove it objectively.”
The time to take action on the planet’s health is now. Hence to make a real difference, consider the environment when you shop, work and have a good time. Consider it when you decide how to live and what to teach your children. Imagine the tremendous positive impact of millions of people each taking even small, green steps. Think of the environment when you invest. By putting your retirement money in companies and funds with sound environmental values you can make an even larger contribution. You also can donate money to green causes, purchase carbon offsets, join green organizations and vote for candidates who demonstrate a commitment to environmental issues. The first thing you can do is to start today.