Experts at the recent Green Cities Conference in Sydney, Australia, identified six key trends city leaders and building and real estate sectors cannot ignore if they want a sustainable and secure future.
Addressing the Green Cities event, themed “Fast Forward to the Future,” speakers highlighted several trends that will pose challenges for the building, real estate and urban planning sectors in Australia and around the world, but also ones that offer new opportunities to shape more sustainable, healthy and inclusive spaces for urban dwellers, reports Eco-Business.
Many involve the use of sophisticated technology or unconventional business models that are still in their early stages and will require significant creativity and effort to mature.
1. The shift to carbon neutral buildings
To ensure Australia meets its climate change targets, all new buildings must be emissions-neutral by 2030, and all existing ones should achieve this by 2050, said the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), the industry body that organized the Green Cities Conference in partnership with the Property Council of Australia.
To lay out a plan for how the building sector – which currently accounts for 23 percent of Australia’s emissions – can achieve this, GBCA lat the conference launched a discussion paper titled “A carbon positive roadmap for the built environment.”
The paper highlights four key priorities to reach the sector’s target: promoting energy efficiency; driving investment in renewable energy infrastructure; increasing markets for net zero carbon products; and promoting offsets for remaining emissions. GBCA is also inviting the industry to give feedback on the paper via email by April 28.
2. The data revolution
Technology to collect and process a wide range of data is growing at an unprecedented rate, observed conference speakers.
From sensors that monitor pollution levels, traffic flows and population numbers in a city to wearable technologies that allow users to collect data about health and environmental factors, the influence of data on how designers, planners and policymakers work is inescapable.
For one thing, data collection and analysis technology is a key enabler of solutions that make cities more sustainable, such as car-sharing and transport on-demand, said Colette Munro, chief digital officer at environmental services firm Aecom.
Chris Pyke, chief strategy officer at San Francisco-based environmental sensor networks firm Aclima, added that data from sensors also allows people to look at cities with an “unprecedented level of granularity,” thereby solving problems that may otherwise go unnoticed.
For example, monitoring pollution levels on every street in the city can reveal unhealthy air quality around areas such as schools, because cars are idling outside the school as caregivers wait to pick up or drop off students. Similarly, tracking air quality in buildings can identify specific rooms that are especially unhealthy, and help operations managers identify and minimize resource wastage and indoor air pollution.
3. The rise of augmented reality
Augmented reality superimposes digital images on a user’s view of the real world; a prominent example is the popular game Pokémon Go.
Rana Abboud, an architect at Sydney-based firm BVN noted that the technology can achieve time, cost and resource savings for the building sector.
Augmented reality is expected to go mainstream within the next decade, said Abboud, adding that the concept, together with related technology virtual reality — which completely immerses users in a digital universe rather than superimposing it over the real world — is expected to be worth an $120 billion industry by then.
Applications of the technology in the building sector include using it to project building information modeling systems directly on construction sites, which can allow designers and developers to discuss requirements in greater detail and reduce errors. It can also be used for tasks such as instructing workers on where to install fixtures or place goods deliveries more accurately.
4. The need to densify
Cities will inevitably need to increase population density, experts at the conference said. This may be for many reasons, including allowing people to live closer to their jobs, achieving greater efficiency for transport infrastructure and accommodating growing populations without urban sprawl.
Michael Rose, chairman of the Committee for Sydney, added that there is more to density than simply increasing the number of homes available.
“It is essential for the discussion about urban density to go beyond a debate between apartment towers and houses,” he said. Instead, he noted that there are five key characteristics that underpin successful densification.
These are: streets designed for pedestrians rather than cars; effective linkages to mass transit; a mixture of public activities suited for different ages and economic classes; a good mixture of residential, commercial and recreational activities; and an aesthetic that is a balance of uniform building structures but aesthetically varied designs.
5. The focus on healthy buildings
The building sector has focused on improving its environmental credentials for some years now, but the next big opportunity for the sector is making buildings healthier, said Rick Fedrizzi, chairman and chief executive officer of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).
Dubbing health and wellness “the next trillion dollar opportunity”, Fedrizzi shared that companies lose billions of dollars every year to employee disengagement, unproductiveness and illness. Through features such as lighting, ventilation and insulation, buildings can have a significant impact on employee health and performance, he added.
To help achieve this, IWBI has developed a certification standard, known as the WELL Standard, which assesses how buildings affect health and well-being. For example, it rewards buildings that allow users that sleep better at night by choosing the right lighting, discourage sedentary behavior among occupants and reduce indoor air pollution.
Some 351 buildings in 28 countries have been certified under the standard, with a further 1,035 starting to align themselves with the certification criteria through a mechanism called Adherence Paths.
6. The fight for food
The United Nations predicts that the world will need to increase its food production by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed a population expected to rise from 7 billion today to 9 billion. But even now, agricultural practices are not sustainable, driving habitat destruction, deforestation and biodiversity loss worldwide.
Feeding a growing global population, which will increasingly be concentrated in urban areas, will no doubt be challenging. But Digby Hall, architect and director at Sydney-based Weaver Studio, noted that cities have the potential to be “powerhouses of food production.”
There are many forms that food production in cities can take, said Hall. These range from food farms in residential complexes or unused carpark lots to more technologically advanced solutions such as aquaculture — systems where fish and plants are grown in the same space — vertical gardens, and even robots that can automatically plant, water and weed farming plots in urban gardens.
Many of these solutions already exist, but much more can be achieved if these tools are combined with one another, Hall said.