Expert: Cities need to be more efficient

Expert: Cities need to be more efficient

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Cities are home to more than half the world's population, and that number continues to grow. How should they adapt to cope with demand?

Four numbers define the importance of cities, according to the co-chair of the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization.

These are 2, 50, 75 and 80, Carlo Ratti, who is also director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory, said in an interview with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“Cities occupy 2 percent of the world’s surface, but they are host up to 50 percent of the world’s population, are responsible for 75 percent of global energy consumption and 80 percent of CO2 emissions. Hence, if we made our cities just a little more efficient, we could have a major global impact,” Ratti explained in an article posted at the WEF website.

Role of technology

Ratti pointed out how technology could play a crucial role in having homes, offices and even furniture designed to evolve and respond to how these are used. He noted that the merging of the physical and digital layers is opening up a new world of applications, from energy to mobility, water management to citizen participation.

“Today, a staggering amount of energy is wasted on heating or cooling empty offices, homes and partially occupied buildings. At MIT, we researched how the Internet of Things could help to synchronize human presence with climate control—that is, heating or cooling people, not entire buildings. We developed and tested prototypes that we are now applying architecturally,” Ratti said.

“Occupants of the building will be followed as they move around by a personalized heating, cooling and lighting system, like an individually-tailored environmental bubble, optimizing space usage and limiting energy waste.”

Ratti noted the potential impact of technology on how people work and the way buildings are used.

“We already have the technological tools to enable remote working, but most of us still commute to offices every day. Why hasn’t remote working taken off as much as many people thought it would? Because being in the same building makes it easier for people to share knowledge, generate ideas and pool talents and perspectives,” Ratti said. “Historically, buildings have been rigid and uncompromising —more like corsets than T-shirts. Increasingly, we will design buildings and digitally integrated furniture that evolve and respond to how people use them, rather than requiring humans to adapt to them,” he said.

Cost of urbanization

Such efficiencies, even if implemented one at a time, are crucial given the rising urbanization, particularly in Asia.

According to the Asian Development Bank, cities in Asia have grown faster than any other urban areas in the world. Yet, urban planning has often been an afterthought. It was estimated that there will be 21 megacities in Asia by 2025.

“Urbanization comes with costs,” Ratti said. “Noise and congestion are among the most apparent features of cities. City living entails higher costs for housing, raising children, and health care. In addition, income inequality and crime rates tend to be higher in urban areas.”

Green certification

Even the International Finance Corp., a member of the World Bank Group, recognized the need to have efficient buildings and structures to ensure the sustainability of cities.

In September, the IFC launched its EDGE green building certification system in the Philippines in partnership with the Philippine Green Building Initiative (PGBI). The launch took place at Green Breakthroughs 2016, an event that showcased groundbreaking innovations and developments in building resource-efficient and sustainable structures.

EDGE—Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies—is a voluntary certification system that helps simplify and reduce the cost of green buildings, making them more accessible to all.

According to the IFC, EDGE promotes resource efficiency through building designs that reduce energy, including the energy used in making construction materials and water.  PGBI, a non-profit group of professional associations that promotes energy-efficient and environment-friendly design and construction, is the certification provider for EDGE projects in the Philippines.

“If we want to sustain economic growth, we need to transform the market so that there are more builders and investors setting up green buildings. We need more structures that save energy, minimize construction and operation costs, and cut greenhouse gas emissions,” IFC country manager Yuan Xu said in an earlier statement.

The IFC noted that buildings emitted 33.28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for 36 percent of the Philippines’ total annual power consumption in 2010. Rapid urban migration is expected to further increase the number of new buildings by 20 percent a year, making it increasingly important to reduce the power usage of buildings, it added.


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