Sustainable Urban Development and Smart Cities of the Future

Cities around the world face a multitude of challenges as they continue to grow rapidly, requiring a range of municipal services and resources including water, energy and food – as well as placing pressure on infrastructure, transport systems and natural habitats. Realizing these impending development needs, smart cities of the future have the opportunity to develop sustainably in a way that is resource efficient, resilient, promotes low carbon development and enhances sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods for all.

Smart cities of the future

The world is increasingly urban and by 2050 the global urban population is expected to reach 6.3 billion, which is almost double the 2010 figure. In addition, over 60 percent of the land projected to become urban by 2030 has yet to be built with most of the growth is expected to take place in small and medium sized cities.

In addition, cities already consume almost 80 percent of the world’s energy and carbon emissions and rapid urbanization will exert additional pressures on water supplies, waste systems, biodiversity and other crucial resources upon which cities depend.

However, cities also present an opportunity to improve global sustainability by promoting low carbon, resource efficient urban development that improves and enhances well being, sustainable lifestyles and conserves natural resources for future generations.

From a city-level perspective, there are many examples where sustainable urban development transitions are taking place. These include retrofitting buildings with energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling; the use of new technology and innovation to address challenges in sustainable urban design and infrastructure development; harnessing renewable energy; the establishment of urban food gardens and sustainable agricultural systems; implementing integrated water resource management; protecting, enhancing and valuing urban nature which contributes towards vital urban ecosystem services; enacting legislation and policies which support sustainable urban development; developing integrated urban eco villages and settlements; and implementing integrated and sustainable mass urban transport systems as well as promoting and facilitating non-motorized transport options.

Many of these solutions could be scaled up and replicated in cities around the world to accelerate green growth and urban sustainable development – and could be used to enhance natural resources, alleviate poverty, create green jobs and facilitate sustainable livelihoods, contribute towards energy security and food security and would help to address vulnerability and risks associated with climate change.

Globally there is a transition towards a new paradigm and model for development, based on resilience, resource efficiency, sustainability, social inclusivity and innovation. In the context of predicted rapid urbanization and population growth rates over the next 20 years, the urgency of collaborative action to plan, integrate and innovate sustainable solutions for cities, that are locally adapted and appropriate, socially inclusive and politically accepted is both crucial and unprecedented. 

The ability of cities to accelerate and effectively implement sustainable development pathways and create smart cities of the future, will require concerted collaboration and cooperation; access to and sharing of information, knowledge and technology; and the sharing solutions, experience and best practice. 

This article has been submitted as part of the Masdar Engage blogging contest.

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