Our greatest sustainability problem is a leadership that doesn't lead

Hans Schnitzer
CItyLABGraz and Graz University of Technology, Austria

There is no transition to equitable, sustainable, post carbon societies without Smart Cities. Over 50% of the world’s population life in cities, about 65% of the resources are used there and 70% of the emissions are caused there. And more and more people move to cities for employment and livelihood. More than two thirds of the European population lives in urban areas, cities are places where both problems emerge and solutions are found. European politics and some national strategies demand a factorial increase of the material and energy efficiency at the end-user. To obtain as stable climate, 80% of the emissions of Greenhouse Gases have to be eliminated till 2050 and other resources as water have to be utilized much more effective. There is much work done on the level of end-users like houses and technical equipment.

Will cities will be the power plants of the future? Today power plants and refineries are situated far away from the largest consumers – the cities. This system is both expensive and volatile. While discussing the possibilities of energy transition in urban areas, reduction in energy demand has to be considered first. Above all, houses have to be energy effective (with a minimum of heating and cooling). It is not mainly technologies that have to be developed, but overwhelmingly the systems that need to be considered. These systems require short distances to minimize energy transportation. Next, renewable energies have to be harvested on site. Solar systems on roofs and facades go hand in hand with integrated small-scale wind turbines. The development of smart energy grids for power and heat/cold including storage facilities will be one of the main system-related challenges.

Will cities be the farms of the future? Today cities live on a continuous flow of food inbound and bio-waste outbound. The high density of living and economic activities leaves almost no space for biomass to grow. But this is only true, as long as we stay in the two-dimensional world. For urban gardening, there is a need to go into the 3rd dimension: underground, roofs and walls. The bio-mass will stay inside the city-bounders. Waste water will become an important source of energy, fertilizers and clean water.

Will cities be the industrial sites of the future? Traditional city planning and industrial development strategies aimed at a separation of these activities. Factories were forced to leave the cities and build their sites far outside. New production technologies that go beyond cleaner production should be able to allow industrial sites again within city borders. In the world of small-scale manufacturing, there are two principal methods vying to be the standard. Additive manufacturing processes create parts and prototypes by fusing layers of material together to build the part from nothing. Subtractive manufacturing uses a block of material and removes unnecessary excess until only the desired shape remains. Both additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing methods have their own advantages which make them appropriate for different circumstances, but both should allow companies to be placed in cities.

Will cities be able to handle the problem of traffic? Traffic is not a primary problem; it is the result of other developments. If there is a suited development in growing food in cities, producing energy there and – most important of all – creating jobs and generating income in urban neighborhoods, traffic will automatically be reduced. There is a need for smarter mobility concepts, but the pressure has to be taken away by other measures than building more roads.

Cities will play an important role in "Accelerating the Transition to Equitable, Sustainable, Post-Fossil Carbon Societies" since here we find:

  • a high density of innovative people
  • a pressure to change
  • a high economic power
  • a high density of services needed (food, energy, information, leisure, …)
  • and a high awareness about the need to change to a more sustainable economic system.

People don’t resist change, but they resist being changed.

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