Monday 20 November 2017

Lessons from two smart cities

Observing how other cities are adopting change is arguably the fastest way towards sustainability for your own environment.Two cities I have recently visited are involved in novel ways of improving the lives of their people.

Consider Singapore. In geographical terms, it’s about half the size of London and supports a population of nearly five and a half million people.

Inevitably it is characterised by a multitude of high-rise buildings but the other overwhelming impression is just how green it is.

It wasn’t always so.

In 1965, when they gained independence, Singapore was “filled with slums, choked with congestion, where rivers became open sewers, no natural resources and few jobs for the workforce. Now it’s a clean, modern metropolis, economically successful and the highest rate of home ownership anywhere”.

Veteran architect and urban planner Cheong Koon Hean oversees the city’s public housing has developed the concept of livable density which is about “creating quality of life despite that density”. Pocket sized public gardens are linked by canals and pretty bridges, Vertical gardens adorn the sides of buildings, whole floors are given over to gardens used by everyone. Three million trees grow in luxuriant profusion amidst rivers and ponds. The botanical gardens are beautiful and it’s orchid collection not to be missed. Bishan park is part of network whose ultimate goal is the provision of 400 miles of walking and cycling tracks. By 2030, Singapore will be gauged by the Green mark standard whose aim is to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Renewable energy is being developed rapidly and the smart money says they will achieve their targets.

San Francisco is one of my favourite cities. They have a target: 50% of their electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. Since solar panels and wind turbines already account for 40% of electricity purchased, the target is likely to be exceeded.

It also has policies on recycling and composting. It aims to eliminate landfills and incinerators by 2020.All food waste, grass cuttings and foliage is collected and converted to compost as “fine as sand”. Hotels are involved in this recycling programme too because it saves them money. The City now bans the sale of small plastic bottles and are installing drinking fountains. Supermarkets are now no longer allowed to hand free plastic bags to their customers. The city is now targeting bans on packaging materials such as polystyrene and cellophane and developing the use of old fashioned washable diapers.

No reason why our cities cannot emulate Singapore and San Francisco.

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