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Cities are often viewed as dirty and polluted, but urban residents typically have a smaller carbon footprint than those who live in suburban or rural areas. Higher population densities provide a number of benefits such as lower fuel consumption, less habitat destruction, and lower infrastructure costs. However, high population densities also present many challenges. Water, energy, and waste are issues that must be addressed to ensure cities are contributing to the advancement of sustainable development.

Zero-energy water purification - Expo 2010

Water is the world’s most critical resource, and many predict water shortages will increasingly cause famines and wars. Considering 70% of our planet is covered with water, this seems absurd, but fresh water makes up less than 3% of the total. Fortunately, desalination technology is rapidly developing, and it can be powered using renewable sources like solar. For cities, managing water is a challenge, but it is ultimately more efficient than providing water to a more widely dispersed population.

Electricity-producing playground equipment - Expo 2012

Large cities consume, and waste, huge quantities of energy. This massive waste of energy is tragic, but it also means there is massive room for improvement. Through improved or upgraded construction, smart grids, and other various technologies, it is possible for even high-density urban developments to produce all of their own energy. At the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, which took “Better City. Better Life” as its theme, there was a major section called the Urban Best Practices Area. 70 cities from all over the world built pavilions that demonstrated their vision for urban development, and energy was a major focus. Shanghai presented a 4-story apartment building, called Eco House, that produced all of its own electricity from solar and wind power, and the entire Expo site was an impressive display of smart city technology.

Shanghai Case Pavilion - Urban Best Practices Area - Expo 2010

Huge cities produce huge amounts of waste, and nearly every city still struggles with this. Most cities have implemented some measures to help deal with waste, but very few go far enough. Like with water and energy, there are technologies available to address waste issues, but massive landfills are still the standard. However, there are some cities searching for more sustainable solutions.

China and Singapore are cooperating to build the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city. This purpose-built smart city will eventually house 350,000 people, and looks to serve as an example of sustainable development. Still, Eco-city is intended to demonstrate the commercial viability of green technologies, so construction requirements are not strict enough to achieve complete carbon neutrality. Eco-city will be far more environmentally friendly than conventional cities, but there are attempts to go even farther.

There are currently two ultra-low carbon cities under construction. One is Dongtan, near Shanghai, and the other is Masdar City, in the United Arab Emirates. Together, these cities will house 130,000 residents, and will serve as living laboratories of green technology. Comprehensive plans for water, energy, and waste management will help ensure not only a high standard of living, but sustainability. While it is unrealistic to expect existing cities to be retrofitted to match this efficiency, these ultra-low carbon cities will help promote technologies that can be more widely adopted. Massive cities that generate their own power, manage their own water resources, and produce zero waste are possible, but even more modest improvements can have a significant impact.

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BilliE Jo Harder
# BilliE Jo Harder
Friday, January 03, 2014 7:37 PM
Enjoyed this thank you!

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