By Andrea Willige
More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and most future population growth is predicted to happen in urban areas. But the concentration of large numbers of people and the ecosystems built around their lives has also been a driver of climate change.
Electric Buses in Santiago de Chile<p>Over the past few years, Chile's capital, <a href="https://cleantechnica.com/2020/07/01/chile-orders-150-electric-buses-from-byd/" target="_blank">Santiago de Chile, has bought 455 electric buses</a>, and plans to raise this to nearly 800 by the end of 2020. The e-buses do not generate emissions through their operation, reducing air pollution and its associated impact on human heath and productivity. Air conditioning and a quieter ride are also popular with Santiago's public transport users.</p><p><a href="https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/db408b53-276c-47d6-8b05-52e53b1208e1/e-bus-case-study-Santiago-From-pilots-to-scale-Zebra-paper.pdf" target="_blank">Latin America's first "electric corridor"</a> now operates along one of Santiago's major transport axes, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports. It is only served by e-buses and consists of bus stops using solar panels to power free Wi-Fi, USB charging and LED lighting – further adding to the attractiveness of the e-bus network for users.</p><p>The e-buses also help the local government to reduce operational expenditure. They cost an impressive 70% less to operate and maintain than diesel-powered buses, offsetting their higher cost of purchase, which is nearly double that of a conventional bus. These huge reductions may also lead to lower fares – which could encourage more people to use public transport.</p><p>Chile has <a href="https://webstore.iea.org/download/direct/3007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">electrification targets</a> for both private and public transport and has put substantial effort into building demand for EVs and charging infrastructure. Its transport minister has recently issued a tender for the procurement of 2,000 more e-buses, and the project is set to be extended to other cities in Chile.</p><p>Although more than nine out of 10 electric buses in 2019 were registered in China, <a href="https://webstore.iea.org/download/direct/3007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">South America is a major growth market for e-buses</a>, according to the IEA. Santiago's e-fleet is the largest, but cities in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador also operate electric buses.</p>
New Farming Methods in Abu Dhabi<p>As the number of urban dwellers grows, feeding them is likely to become an ever greater challenge. By 2050, it is expected that <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/how-to-build-a-circular-economy-for-food/" target="_blank">80% of all food will be consumed in cities</a>. Where space is limited for traditional farming or the climate makes it difficult to grow sufficient food, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/hydroponics-future-of-farming/" target="_blank">hydroponic farming</a> could be one solution.</p><p>Hydroponics is a water-based farming process that feeds plants nutrient-rich water, rather than them being planted in soil. Because roots don't have to burrow into the ground, hydroponically farmed plants take up a smaller footprint and can be stacked vertically.</p><p>By carefully controlling the plant's environment and nutrient intake, hydroponic farming can not only <a href="https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/poverty-reduction/private_sector/catalyzing-private-sector-investment-in-climate-smart-cities.html" target="_blank">increases yield by a factor of 10 per hectare</a>, but it can also make better use of resources – reducing waste, water usage, pesticides and fertilizers - compared with traditional farming methods. Being indoors, they are less affected by pests and weather events, and crops can be grown close to where they will be consumed. This can save 'food miles' and associated emissions, according to the UN report.</p><p>Abu Dhabi is now providing $100 million in funding to build a vertical farm of over 8,200 square meters (88,000 square feet) for both research and development and the commercialization of crops. The objective for the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which has granted the funding, is to turn <a href="https://www.just-food.com/news/abu-dhabi-invests-big-in-vertical-farming-initiatives_id143518.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">"sand into farmland,"</a> boost local food production and accelerate the growth of its agricultural technology ecosystem.</p><p>The facility will house four different vertical farming companies, whose initiatives will include indoor tomato cultivation, the development of an irrigation system and an R&D center.</p><p>Similar forays into vertical farming are under way around the world, including in neighboring Dubai, which recently launched <a href="https://gulfagriculture.com/majid-al-futtaim-launches-dubais-first-in-store-hydroponic-farm-bringing-fresh-and-sustainable-food-options-to-shoppers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its first in-store hydroponic farm</a>.</p>
Insuring Coral Reefs in Mexico<p>When hedging against climate risk, natural solutions can be important elements in a city's sustainable infrastructure.</p><p>Coral reefs are a case in point, serving as natural barriers against hazards such as ocean surges and flooding. <a href="https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/poverty-reduction/private_sector/catalyzing-private-sector-investment-in-climate-smart-cities.html" target="_blank">They can absorb as much wave energy as seawalls and breakwaters</a>, which are less durable.</p><p>The UNDP report says reefs and other natural defenses are less costly to maintain than man-made solutions and could save as much as $100 billion in cases of natural disasters.</p><p>However, it says, 20% of reefs have been lost globally and another 15% are in danger, and funding for their restoration and maintenance is limited and such initiatives only happen on a small scale.</p><p>In Mexico, the UNDP is now piloting an insurance scheme to protect and boost the Meso-American reef – the second largest globally – as a natural defense, and as a source of income for coastal populations.</p><p>Reef2Resilience is similar to a trust fund that local businesses pay into. The role of the fund is two-fold. It invests in restoring and maintaining the reef – so it can offer better natural protection. And it pays for catastrophe insurance so that the reef and its surrounding ecosystem can recover quickly after a natural disaster, ensuring future protection and protecting the livelihoods of coastal communities.</p><p>An extension of the project to the Caribbean and Asia is being discussed.</p>
Climate-Smart Infrastructure as an Investment Opportunity<p>Climate-smart urban infrastructure, whether technology-driven or natural, represents a $30 trillion investment opportunity – ranging from renewable energy to public transport and from electric vehicles to green buildings, the report says. And that's just in developing economies.</p><p>New funding models, policies and risk assessment will be needed to overcome barriers to investment and bring out the long-term value of climate-smart infrastructure for growing urban populations.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Charli Shield
Not too long ago, many people weren't sure if trees had a place in cities. People, cars, houses and buildings made up urban areas — there wasn't much room for nature.
As Cities Evolve, Trees Keep Us Grounded.<p>Trees are powerhouses when it comes to regulating city microclimates — filtering air pollution, providing shade, absorbing CO2, helping prevent flash flooding, as well as acting as an important antidote to the urban heat island effect that makes cities far hotter than surrounding rural areas.</p><p>"Trees can make a huge difference to a city's temperature," says Tobi Morakinyo, an urban climatologist whose <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212095513000084" target="_blank">research</a> into the cooling effect of trees in Akure, southwest Nigeria, showed using trees to shade buildings could cool them down by up to five degrees Celsius.</p><p>In hot sub Saharan African cities like Akure — where average maximum summer temperatures can reach 38 degrees (100 degrees F) — Morakinyo says trees' cooling effect is an important tool councils can wield against both heat stress and cooling costs.</p><p>Alongside the eco-services urban trees provide, there are also the qualities "that we can't put monetary value on," adds Cris Brack, a forest ecologist from the Australian National University and director of the National Arboretum in Canberra. </p><p>Those are "biodiversity, aesthetics and our visceral, gut-need to experience nature," Brack told DW, referring to the concept of 'biophilia' — the idea that humans have an innate desire to connect with nature. Mounting <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep11610" target="_blank">evidence</a> shows that people who live in places with more trees experience lower levels of stress and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-019-0451-y" target="_blank">mental illness</a>, even when controlling for socio-economic factors.</p>
Trees Make Us Feel Good — Do We Return the Favor?<p>Though our need for trees in cities appears to only be becoming greater, they often battle oppressive urban environments. Street trees are "in a constant struggle" for space in cities, says Brack, where below ground their root systems can be choked by water pipes, roads and underground car parks, and above ground by pollution, power lines and traffic.</p><p>They also face mechanical damage from cars, battering from increasingly extreme weather conditions and regular uprootings to make way for construction sites.</p><p>Perhaps the most damaging modern challenge for city trees, though, says Somidh Saha, urban forest ecologist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, is drought. Following Europe's unprecedented heatwave in 2018, a study co-authored by Saha found 30% of the trees planted in Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany over the previous four years had died — both directly and indirectly because of a lack of water.</p><p>"Without enough water, trees become weak and that makes them vulnerable to disease," Saha told DW. At the same time, declining city populations of birds and arboreal mammals, such as bats, leaves insect populations unchecked, and local trees susceptible to their growing numbers.</p>
Seeing the Forest for the Trees<p>Ambitious greening projects have cropped up in several megacities around the globe in recent years. New York City planted a million trees between 2007 and 2015, London mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to green more than half the capital by 2050 to make the world's first "National Park City," while Paris announced it would build four inner-city urban forests throughout 2020.</p><p>But outside the Global North, in places such as Saha's native India and Morakinyo's native Nigeria, where they cite a lack of resources and political will as big barriers to making urban greenery a priority, trees in cities are much scarcer.</p><p>As climate change brings hotter temperatures and unpredictable downpours, cities are demanding a new kind of resilience from urban trees. For many cities in the world, ecologists say that means planting more exotic species of trees.</p><p>While many people are opposed to the idea of planting non-native species, ecologists Brack and Saha say alternative species are usually better adapted to the artificial environment of a city — especially in the face of increasing heatwaves.</p><p>The three-toothed Maple, native to China, Korea and Japan, is one species that could appear in greater numbers in other parts of the world as temperatures rise. </p><p>There's also an important distinction to be made between "exotic" trees, which just means they aren't local, and "invasive" trees, which are harmful — spreading very quickly and dominating the environment. As for local wildlife, while ongoing studies are being carried out in places like Germany by Saha's team, Brack says in his local Canberra, where almost all tree species in the city are exotic, birds happily eat fruit from non-natives and mammals alike find homes wherever there is an appropriate hollow.</p>
Citizens Pitch In<p>One solution to preserving city trees that's grown in popularity in recent years is citizen involvement in urban tree caretaking. New York City's citizen pruner program allows city dwellers to take classes to become official city tree carers, and Berlin — a place that has typically excluded citizens from looking after urban flora — is now allowing residents to apply for permits to maintain tree pits and has proposed that they water city trees in summer.</p><p>Involving citizens has its pros and cons, Dümpelmann says, and these kinds of programs may or may not be effective depending on the culture of the city – but even watering trees alone "has been shown to be a really relevant maintenance effort."</p><p>While planting trees in urban spaces is an effective and fairly efficient way to adapt to climate change, Dümpelmann stresses that it isn't a holistic solution.</p><p>"It's something we should work on while at the same time addressing the root causes of climate change," she said. </p><p>Beyond using trees as geo-engineering fix, urban ecologists point out that more trees in cities could change perspectives on urban living and give people a greater understanding of how to value nature as part of a sustainable, livable city – not separate from it.</p><p>That means seeing trees as living, growing beings, Brack says – not fixed in time, or immune to the stressors of living in harsh urban environments.</p>
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By Kevin J. Krizek
Sticking closer to home because of COVID-19 has shown many people what cities can be like with less traffic, noise, congestion and pollution. Roads and parking lots devoted to cars take up a lot of land. For example, in Phoenix, Los Angeles and New York City these spaces account for over one-third of each city's total area.
The Dangerous, Expensive Automobile<p>In large U.S. cities, nearly half of all car trips are <a href="https://doi.org/10.32866/10777" target="_blank">less than four miles</a>. Using cars to travel such short distances has many costs.</p><p>For example, consider traffic fatalities. Two pedestrians or cyclists die every hour on U.S. city streets, a national trend that's been <a href="http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/180624.aspx" target="_blank">worsening</a> in recent years, even though cycling and walking rates are <a href="https://bikeleague.org/content/new-data-bike-commuting" target="_blank">steady or declining</a>. Pollution from cars contributes to climate change and worsens air quality. Designing cities around cars <a href="https://theconversation.com/people-are-stranded-in-transit-deserts-in-dozens-of-us-cities-92722" target="_blank">marginalizes individuals who don't have them</a>.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b5c9ddfda1e03726192181fedaef4a35"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/h-I6HFQXquU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In my view, this is the time to move beyond the "grab the keys" mentality on the way out the door, as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2015.1057196" target="_blank">millennials</a> and <a href="https://washpirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/don%E2%80%99t-believe-hype-%E2%80%93-millennials%E2%80%99-transportation-habits-are-changing" target="_blank">GenXers</a> already are doing. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/09/opinion/ban-cars-manhattan-cities.html" target="_blank">New visions</a> for streets, where cars use less space and are replaced by smaller vehicles built for individual riders, are gaining currency.</p><p>These modes of transport might be <a href="https://electrek.co/2020/06/19/cityqs-enclosed-electric-car-ebike-begins-taking-pre-orders/" target="_blank">new forms of e-bikes</a>, e-scooters or hoverboards. These novel vehicles, which were already <a href="https://usa.streetsblog.org/2020/06/17/four-signs-this-might-be-micromobilitys-big-moment/" target="_blank">attracting attention</a> before COVID-19, complement conventional bicycles, whose <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/nyregion/bike-shortage-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">sales have boomed</a> during the pandemic.</p>
New Thinking, Different Results<p>Increasingly, thinking about the future of cities suggests that chiefly relying on cars as a form of transport <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/opinion/us-infrastructure-plan.html" target="_blank">has run its course</a>. By minimally modifying the existing infrastructure, it is possible for city leaders to repurpose roads and parking spaces while ensuring the same ease of being able to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2020.102336" target="_blank">reach daily services</a>.</p><p>Emerging forms of mobility and changing mindsets can help deliver these opportunities. Bicycles and bicycle-like vehicles provide a catalyst to shift how city streets are used.</p><p>Research demonstrates that people will adopt new ways of getting around town when they are confident that an entire route, including intersections and parking lots, is safe for travel. Some COVID-19-induced street changes that have emerged recently, such as <a href="https://globaldesigningcities.org/publication/global-street-design-guide/designing-streets-people/designing-for-motorists/traffic-calming-strategies/" target="_blank">reducing the number of traffic lanes</a> and <a href="https://www.insider.com/cities-closed-streets-for-pedestrians-covid-lockdowns-2020-5#eventually-new-york-city-aims-to-open-a-total-of-100-miles-of-streets-for-free-use-to-pedestrians-2" target="_blank">closing streets to traffic</a>, are a good first step. But they lack the network component.</p><p>Networks quickly develop the more people use them. The quickest way to build one that is scaled and purposed for people begins by identifying streets used to make short trips. These are places near neighborhood retail districts, schools and other activity centers.</p><p>Informed by local data, leaders can make decisions about which streets should give priority to vehicles such as bicycles, not cars. Changes might include physically demarcated lanes and signs making statements like "Cars are guests." Initially, these changes might require waivers to exempt them from adhering to current engineering guidelines and standards – restrictions that stifle innovation.</p>
<div id="96008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3bf9becba1577cd577d5dbdcf6a08dc6"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1264305002203492352" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Avenue B, as it should B, as it was meant to B, serving a variety of active road users AND promoting social distanc… https://t.co/KPWPu4wdzu</div> — madamwestbikes (@madamwestbikes)<a href="https://twitter.com/madamwestbikes/statuses/1264305002203492352">1590268776.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Richard leBrasseur
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered humans' relationship with natural landscapes in ways that may be long-lasting. One of its most direct effects on people's daily lives is reduced access to public parks.
Making Healthy Places<p>Olmsted was born in 1822 but became a landscape architect rather late in his career, at <a href="https://www.olmsted.org/the-olmsted-legacy/olmsted-theory-and-design-principles/olmsted-his-essential-theory" target="_blank">age 43</a>. His ideas evolved from a diverse and unique set of experiences.</p><p>From the start, Olmsted recognized the positive effect of nature, noting how urban trees provided a "<a href="https://loa-shared.s3.amazonaws.com/static/pdf/Olmsted_Trees.pdf" target="_blank">soothing and refreshing sanitary influence</a>." His "sanitary style" of design offered more than mere decoration and ornamentation. "Service must precede art" was his cry.</p>
Olmsted's 1874 plan for the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, DC. Architect of the Capitol<p>Olmsted came of age in the mid-19th century, as the public health movement was rapidly developing in response to typhoid, cholera and typhus epidemics in European cities. As managing editor of Putnam's Monthly in New York City, he regularly walked the crowded tenement streets of Lower Manhattan.</p><p>At the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, Olmsted led efforts to improve sanitation in Union Army military camps and protect soldiers' health. He initiated policies for selecting proper camp locations, installing drainage and disposing of waste, ventilating tents and preparing food, all designed to reduce disease. And in 1866 he witnessed adoption of New York's <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Health_Bill" target="_blank">Metropolitan Health Bill</a>, the first city law to control unhealthy housing conditions.</p>
Antidotes to Urban Stress<p>The insights Olmsted gained into connections between space, disease control and public health clearly influenced his landscape architectural career and the design of many urban park systems. For example, his design for the interlinked parks that forms Boston's <a href="https://ramboll.com/-/media/files/rgr/lcl/bgi_final-report_mit_boston_20160403.pdf?la=en" target="_blank">Emerald Necklace</a> foreshadowed the concept of green infrastructure.</p><p>This system centered on stagnant and deteriorated marshes that had became disconnected from the tidal flow of the Charles River as Boston grew. City residents were dumping trash and sewage in the marshes, creating <a href="https://landscapes.northeastern.edu/water-sanitation-and-public-health-in-boston/" target="_blank">fetid dumps that spread waterborne diseases</a>. Olmsted's design reconnected these water systems to improve flow and flush out stagnant zones, while integrating a series of smaller parks along its trailways.</p>
Parks in the Time of COVID-19<p>Today researchers are documenting many health benefits associated with being outside. Spending time in parks and green spaces clearly benefits urban dwellers' <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.09.009" target="_blank">psychological, emotional and overall well-being</a>. It <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10030913" target="_blank">reduces stress</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916591231001" target="_blank">improves cognitive functioning</a> and is associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s40471-015-0043-7" target="_blank">improved overall health</a>.</p><p>In my view, government agencies should work to make these vital services as widely available as possible, especially during stressful periods like pandemic shutdowns. Certain types of public green spaces, such as botanical gardens, arboretums and wide trails, are well suited to maintaining social distancing rules. Other types where visitors may be likely to cluster, such as beaches and playgrounds, require stricter regulation.</p><p>There are many ways to make parks accessible with appropriate levels of control. One option is stationing agents at entry points to monitor and enforce capacity controls. Park managers can use timed entries and parking area restrictions to limit social crowding, as well as temperature screening and face mask provisions.</p>
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By Andrea Germanos
Chicago made history on Wednesday by becoming the largest U.S. city to commit to 100 percent renewable energy before the middle of the century.
By John Rennie Short
As cities strive to improve the quality of life for their residents, many are working to promote walking and biking. Such policies make sense, since they can, in the long run, lead to less traffic, cleaner air and healthier people. But the results aren't all positive, especially in the short to medium term.
By Jeff Turrentine
I used to live in a hilly, temperate corner of the American west, right near the banks of a meandering river. On late-evening walks with my two dogs, I would routinely encounter all manner of economy-size mammalian wildlife: skunks, raccoons, opossums, coyotes. Sightings of a mountain lion in the area had occurred more than once, though my dogs and I were perfectly happy never to have chanced upon him. During the day, it wasn't unusual to see red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures circling overhead, or rigid V-formations of migrating Canada geese, or even the occasional egret or blue heron swooping down as it made its descent to its riparian home.
By Trina Hamilton and Winifred Curran
There are many indexes that aim to rank how green cities are. But what does it actually mean for a city to be green or sustainable?
The Sierra Club released a new analysis Friday that found that transitioning all 1,400+ U.S. Conference of Mayors member-cities to 100 percent clean and renewable electricity will significantly reduce electric sector carbon pollution nationwide and help the U.S. towards meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement.