The building blocks to a sustainable city

As our planet continues to evolve, people will continue to flock to its busy, dynamic and imposing urban centers. Urban migration is now very much the norm. Love them or avoid them, we are now in the ‘Age of the City’.

Sustainability is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In an urban context, this means cities that work well for their citizens in the present without causing problems for themselves and the rest of the world in the future.

A city is much more than just a place for people to live and do business. Cities are areas of emotional attachment, each with their own distinct personality, traditions and attraction factors. What can we do to keep our beloved cities sustainable for future generations?

The answer is People, Planet and Profit.

Sustainable cities build transport systems that enable people to navigate the city quickly and affordably, have clean and safe water supplies, strong social structures and institutions that work predictably and efficiently, a healthy and well-educated workforce, and an environment conducive to strong economic performance.

To take the needs of the future into account, cities must take care of their waste, avoid polluting the atmosphere and protect the surrounding water from contamination.

Across the region Dubai is the most sustainable city, performing stronger on ‘people’ factors due to its performance in residential property price per square metre. According to the Arcadis ‘Sustainable Cities Index’, relative prices of property tend to support a city’s social sustainability score, predominantly for developing cities. Transport infrastructure, which takes into account a city’s public transport, commuting time, rail infrastructure and airport development, is another area in the ‘profit’ factor where Dubai performs best.

Buildings are one of the big energy consumers in any city and so improvements in their sustainability will have a marked effect. This will materialise as improved energy efficiency which will lead to lower energy bills, less greenhouse gas emissions and a healthier environment, and thus rewarding all three aspects of people, planet and profit.

Taking the framework for a sustainable city as finding a balance between people, planet and profit, we can see from Arcadis’ research that no city has been able to achieve top ratings for all criteria. This is understandable in that each is unique, so there is, rightly, no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, we can see that a city needs to have a clear vision for what it wants to be and set a road map for how it can get there.

To do this, cities need to take a balanced view of their sustainability vision. This needs to take into account a range of principles to provide a solution that balances the requirements. This will support cities in their master planning, strategy development and CSR strategy in relation to sustainability.

In the case of Dubai specifically, if its buildings were more environmentally-friendly, would that help the city’s rating? What can the property industry do to improve Dubai’s people and profit sustainability? Those are two questions we will let the future provide an answer.

Source: Christopher Seymour, Special to Gulf News

The writer is a Partner and Head of Property at Arcadis.


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