The cities of the future are being built today – Can our vision of what the future should look like translate into reality today?
Ecocities/Sustainable cities/ecotowns/ecoquarters/green urbanization seems to be the buzzwords for new and existing developments globally. Governments seem to have woken up to the fact that traditional methods of spatial design, planning and construction are not sustainable. Sustainable urbanization is a complicated issue, as different regions have varying constraints and opportunities based on the local geography, climate, population, and legislative mechanisms, and there may not be a one-size- fits- all solution. However, more can and should be done to incentivize sustainable urbanization.
There has been a recent spate of legislation on this issue, particularly in the UK, where all new homes are required to be zero carbon by 2016, and all non-domestic properties are required to be zero carbon by 2019 (although the Government is still struggling to understand what zero carbon really means, and there is no policy for existing buildings, which will comprise majority of the UK’s built environment for the next few decades). In the UK, although legislation is in place to drive forward sustainable housing (sustainable urbanization in the sense of sustainable communities has been watered down considerably under the current government) , complicating factors include costs associated with sustainable construction, the lack of benchmarking for project financing, the lack of governmental subsidies, the lack of a consistent approach towards sustainable urbanization by different political parties, and uncertainty regarding the influence of sustainable construction on factors such as land price.
From a developers’ perspective in the UK, sustainable homes and communities not only cost more to construct, there is no evidence that buyers in the UK would be willing to pay more to live in a sustainable community, despite the obvious benefits of doing so. From a governmental perspective, Ecocities would help reduce burden on infrastructure and help achieve targets under the Climate Change Act.
Instinctively one feels that the concept of sustainability urbanization is sound and the bridge between developers and governmental thinking would be consumer preference for sustainable communities. However, there is a need for detailed analysis of these issues in the form of concrete case studies where these points are put to test. There is a need to establish a common baseline upon which project costs can be estimated, and while the drive towards sustainable urbanization in Europe, the US and more recently China, is admirable, what is disappointing is the lack of a coherent international attempt to address the challenges associated with Ecocities.