September 12, 2019
THE world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, and approximately 70 percent of this will live in cities, according to the United Nations. Along with the fast rising urban population, we are facing other challenges such as climate change, altered landscapes, diminishing natural resources and increasing poverty.
How do we future-proof our communities and cities so they can withstand existing and forthcoming challenges and shifts? To meet these issues, communities and cities must be consciously planned to remain resilient, so they can still thrive in spite of the harsh conditions we will face.
The Urban Land Institute defines resilience as “the ability of cities to continue to function as centers of production, human habitation, and cultural development despite the challenges posed by climate change, population growth, and declining resource supply.” A study in 2014 identified the 10 most resilient cities in the world. Toronto was in the No.1 spot, followed by Vancouver, Calgary, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Stockholm, Boston, Zurich, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. These cities have been recognized because of their local governments’ commitment to invest in technology, strategies, urban plans and infrastructure geared toward resiliency.
Bioclimatic and resilient architecture and planning
Sea levels are rising, cities have been sinking, typhoons and hurricanes are getting stronger, heat waves are getting more intense, and earthquakes are intensifying. These are the impacts of climate change. But with the help of advanced technology, architects, engineers and other professionals of the built environment are able to design and build structures and communities that can be livable and at the same time are disaster-resilient, sustainable, nature-based, and can reduce environmental impacts and adapt to the local climate. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on disaster resiliency saves $6. Cities around the world have been enhancing their flood management initiatives by increasing their green infrastructure such as rain gardens, permeable pavements and stormwater ponds, which can effectively absorb rainwater. On a grander scale, concepts for floating communities have already been envisioned and designed. “The Lilypad,” designed by Vincent Callebaut, is a self-sufficient, floating city that shows where people could live if ever rising sea levels and persistent flooding limit our geographical landscape and we become climate refugees. The Lilypad can shelter approximately 50,000 residents, integrates all types of renewable energy, and can provide a biodiverse environment for flora and fauna to thrive.
Japan is known for its resilient architecture and engineering. Technologies such as seismic base isolation, oil dampers and sliding isolation systems help keep the percentage of building collapse very low in Japan. The country is very strict on its mandate that every structure, whether homes or skyscrapers, passes through stringent evaluations for earthquake-proofing. In 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, causing approximately 31,000 casualties. In January 2016, we at Palafox were given the privilege to assist in the recovery process by presenting plans for rebuilding school campuses and hospitals for the Tzu Chi Foundation. We were tasked to design buildings that were safe and could last a thousand years, so our first consideration was to make the structures strong enough to withstand a 9.6-magnitude earthquake, which is more than the requirements of the building code. In addition, preserving the Nepalese culture and heritage through the architecture and ensuring inclusivity were also aspects that we incorporated.
The design and construction of buildings also play a significant role in preserving the environment. Through bioclimatic architecture, the site’s weather, hydrography, and ecosystem are taken into account, so the structure is designed with respect to its environment. Its key elements are passive systems that comprise passive cooling techniques, passive solar heat protection and natural daylighting systems — promoting energy efficiency and less dependence on the power supply.
Our reliance on information and communications technology will increase even further because it will help cities monitor, analyze and coordinate data, so they can prepare for and mitigate natural disasters, efficiently mobilize their public services, and sustainably plan for the future. Sensor systems can be installed in cities’ major infrastructure like roads and bridges to monitor its endurance or deterioration. Likewise, bodies of water can be monitored for their water levels, and warnings for risks will be automatically transmitted to disaster management organizations, so they can in turn alert the affected areas. Real-time data enables the city to collect as much information as possible, which will be useful in assessing hazards for their disaster reduction and preparedness strategies. Maximizing technological advancements also results in less time in gathering accurate critical information and faster response and coordination.
To ensure food resilience in spite of worsening weather conditions and the decline of our natural resources, researchers and scientists have produced new technology and other agricultural developments to help farmers increase their productivity. Instead of solely relying on rural regions to provide the food supply, cities can be self-sustaining by integrating agricultural farms in the urban setting. The concept of an agropolis — agros meaning farm and polis meaning city — places the food source in the city or nearby areas. Aside from becoming an additional food source, developing urban food systems provides green spaces that offer relief from pollution, urban heat, and other deteriorating conditions of the urban environment.
Resilience is a vital characteristic cities should have to ensure that they not only exist but continue to prosper in the future. As architects and planners, we have an important role in securing this. Green architecture, and sustainable urban planning and development can help future-proof our cities for generations to come.
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