Cities consume 2/3 of the world’s energy, and according to UNICEF, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. Barring a massive reversal of this trend, cities will play the dominant role in influencing both quality of life and the environmental impacts in the world of tomorrow. Smart growth design and smart use of technology hold the keys to solving the livability, environmental and energy challenges we’ll all soon face.
Smart Growth is built on the idea that cities should exist and be designed for humans rather than just cars. A great definition comes from Smart Growth America:
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.
A huge part of smart growth & planning is mixed-use development. Mixed-use development combines residential, commercial and retail spaces for more accessible and convenient cities. Accessibility promotes exercise (through walking and public transit), cleaner air quality (less cars on the road,) and builds a stronger sense of community (less isolation). For an added bonus, compact spaces are naturally more efficient.
Developing green spaces is another main tenet of smart growth. But, adding green spaces to existing cities can be a challenge. What do you do in dense spaces short of tearing down buildings and building parks? One fast growing solution is green roofs. Beyond adding community spaces, green roofs reduce HVAC requirements, improve air quality and add noise insulation to buildings. Furthermore, they can also add multiple LEED points for storm water runoff reduction reduced heat island effect.
This year San Francisco became the first US city mandating green roofs. Most new residential and commercial construction will now need to cover 15%-30% their roofs with green space or solar panels. As a result, these new green spaces will help US cities catch up with development in cities across the world. Germany, for instance, built more than 10 million square meters of green roofing in 2016 alone.
Smart cities go beyond design and growth principles promoted by smart growth initiatives. Smart cities are communicating, living, breathing and constantly evolving. Connected IoT sensors, controls and devices can measure and control things like water and air pollution, testing and guiding smart growth decision making.
Take China, for example. Beijing is developing air purification technology to reduce smog and pollutants – a big problem if you’ve ever witnessed a high pollution day in China.
Combining the Beijing purification technology with connected monitors of environmental conditions, like those now being piloted in Chicago, means progress can be monitored and efforts adjusted in real time.
This redesign and connectivity trend is global. India, for example, is looking to strengthen connected technology in their cities. Here at home, the Smart City Challenge is setting aside $50 million to improve existing cities. Smart cities mean stronger communities and healthier, more convenient, spaces to live and work – and that’s good for all of us.
As more of the global population continues to migrate to urban centers, livability and smart growth should be front of mind for all developers. Your next generation of tenants will be looking for high sustainability performance and smart design. Start now, and stay ahead of the curve.