How sustainable development and smart city are correlated

Sustainable development is a vibrant subject that is based on a simple observation: human activity exerts too much pressure on ecosystems. In this context, we need to think seriously about changing our development model, and open ourselves up to new opportunities. New technologies are revolutionary, transforming our lifestyles and contributing to the emergence of a “world” civilization. Then how sustainable development and smart city are correlated ? First, let’s have some key reminders.

In the footsteps of sustainable development: a unanimous observation 

The strong pressure of human activity on ecosystems is leading to massive extinction of biodiversity, air pollution, ocean acidification, water scarcity, land degradation and global warming. This is an unfortunate situation that is causing significant ecological damage and dramatic social consequences.

 The fact also remains that we do not share natural resources equitably: 20% of the world’s population, and mainly that of the so-called “developed” countries, consumes 80% of the current natural resources. 

Further on, the wealth produced by human activity is not shared. OXFAM, in its 2018 annual report on the state of inequality, published that:

– The world’s 26 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 50%

– More than 80% of the world’s wealth created goes to the richest 1% of humanity

The most vulnerable are the most fragile, especially in the face of climatic or health disasters.

1 – Notion: sustainable development 

In 1987, aware of the need to reverse this trend of increasing human pressure on the earth’s ecosystems, the UN Commission defined and introduced the concept of sustainable development in its report entitled “Our Common Report”.

The report defined a new model: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. 

Three principles flow from this: 

– A principle of intergenerational social equity

– A principle of interdependence between the economic, social and environmental spheres

– A principle of uncertainty as to the effects of the action

These principles must be translated into concrete actions in the territories where the populations are concentrated. 

Indeed, based on the extrapolation of urban population growth between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, in 2050, we should be 10 billion compared to the 7.7 billion today. And, according to the UN, 68% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to today’s 55%. 

We must, therefore, anticipate and prepare for it by developing a new approach to designing and developing territories. This approach should combine the long and short term and extend to both local and global scales. It should reconcile people’s basic needs – to live, to feed themselves, to move around, to feel safe, to maintain social relations, and the needs of our natural ecosystem to regenerate itself.

By taking an interest in the urban planning of territories we can significantly reduce the impact of human activity on the environment and promote a better balance in terms of the distribution of wealth and the reduction of disparity in ecological footprint.  This is called inclusive urban planning.

Read more about sustainable development and what makes a city sustainable.

2 – Foundation: inclusive urbanism

Urban planning has always shaped our environment. It determines how we live, work, play, travel and relax.

Here are some non-exhaustive dimensions that must be taken into account in the design of an urban project for 2021:

  • Food: ensuring food security, conserving agricultural land and ensuring soil quality, preserving and optimising water resources. 
  • Living: housing the population and businesses in eco-designed, energy-efficient, water-efficient and energy-producing buildings.
  • Safety: using services and spaces in the public domain without constraint or barrier, anticipating waste management, organising cleanliness, designing infrastructures to promote ease and safety in travel at a reasonable cost, and promoting the security of tenure in housing to live, work, get rich and gain autonomy.
  •  Transport: multimodal transport, accessibility of the city for people with disabilities.
  • Social relationships: creating local economic ecosystems to promote access to work for all, developing businesses and services for people to meet, and creating places for entertainment and exercise.

For each of these dimensions, it is imperative to maintain a significant place for nature, which must be valued as heritage within each territory. For instance, the wealth of New York is also Central Park, that of Singapore is also the MacRitchie Reservoir. The systematic deforestation reflex should be avoided.

It goes without saying that taking all these aspects into account requires long term urban planning, enabled by adapted governance and driven by the political vision of the society to build in the territory.

Requisites for integrated urban design and planning

A combination of skills

The multidisciplinary work of urban planners, designers, sociologists, financiers, architects, engineers and landscape designers allows us to compare notes and to extract the best of each competence adapted to the context of the project in order to design efficiently. 

To no longer think of a project in isolation but in its context

The project must operate as a coherent whole. The city should not be a juxtaposition of disparate projects; it should be in harmony to create harmony within the communities it hosts. For example, when building a housing area or a commercial zone, you have to think about how it will work to avoid social segregation or lack of economic attractiveness.

A change of mindset in the design of our cities

The vision must be planned on the right scale to favour the balance of the territories. It must take into account the local specificities for the project to work. The time scale must be sufficiently long in order to be able to anticipate land reserves and project financing needs.

Cooperation between politicians, professionals, the public and research laboratories

This is essential to give substance to the vision and turn it into sustainable projects.

Quality governance

The division of roles between politicians and professionals must be clear. Policies must be inherently concerned with the common good and professionals must be concerned with effective implementation. 

A co-constructed vision that integrates the needs of the population

This will be based on general interest.

Integrated urban design and its planning is the indispensable foundation on which the smart city can develop and accelerate the paradigm shift towards sustainable development.

 3 – Concept: the smart city 

 We are the generation that has seen the most technological upheaval, and that is extraordinary. 

A smart city is one that uses information and communication technologies to enhance its operational efficiency and effectiveness, and thereby, its liveability and sustainability. 

Implementing smart city concepts may offer many benefits : 

  • Technology allows us to communicate and get closer, to share ideas, reasoning, and best practices, and to share the most beautiful thing, knowledge. 
  • Technology allows us to mobilize for a cause, together, to convey the image of the world we want to live in. It enables massive and unimaginable citizen expression, providing an inexhaustible source of inspiration to build territories in line with the needs of the population. 
  • It allows us to monitor and better manage energy and water consumption, travel, and to adapt our lifestyles and work methods to improve our productivity.
  • With new technologies, we can observe the infinity of the universe, measure the quality of life of people who are fragile in their constrained space (elderly people for example), or afford inspiration and understanding to an international community to become “world citizens”.
  • New technologies bring extraordinary added value to the city’s use by the inhabitants. Public services are just a click away. Everything becomes simpler for those who have access to it. Thanks to new technologies, we can build different inclusive urban planning scenarios and measure the impacts.

Many technologies are required to enable the smart city to use various electronic data collection sensors, that provide information for the efficient management of resources and assets. This includes data collected from citizens and businesses, which is processed and analysed to monitor and manage traffic and transport systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, information systems, schools, libraries and hospitals.

The concept of the smart city integrates Information Communication Technology and various physical devices connected to the network, constituting the Internet of Things, to optimise the efficiency of urban operations and services and connect to citizens.

 This may seem like a utopian world.

That is why we must take account fairly quickly of two elements that I believe are fundamental to protect ourselves and to avoid falling into dystopia: 

  • Regulation is required to protect citizens’ fundamental right to data protection. Such privacy and security laws are essential in the context of a smart city where a trove of personal data may be captured by all kinds of operators.
  • Business continuity planning has to be integrated into the design of smart cities. In modern cities, most operations increasingly rely on technologies. This may fail, in which case our society still needs to be able to operate.

We must therefore secure our development and keep new technologies as a means and not as an end in themselves.

 Sustainable development, if it is to take shape in cities, must find its foundations in a solid, long-term, inclusive urban plan that will be enhanced by new technologies.

At Ergapolis, we believe it is important to foster sustainable cities. If you have any questions about how sustainable development and smart city are correlated , do get in touch

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