Reimagining city design is crucial to tackling climate change, experts say

A general view of downtown Seattle during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), shown in this aerial photo over Seattle, Washington, US on March 16, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters file

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Addressing climate change will require reimagining urban planning and design, speakers at the Reuters Impact conference said, discussing ways that buildings and cities could evolve.

"It's about reminding ourselves that we all have a shared responsibility to ensure that we use less resources," said architect and chair of the Quality of Life Foundation, Sadie Morgan. "We just have to be open to new ways of living."

When designing new structures, for instance, architects should think about how the buildings can be deconstructed and recycled at the end of their life cycle, or transformed for other purposes, said Morgan.

City planners can create more places for people to gather and socialize without needing cars.

But drastic shifts in how cities operate - such as transforming the use of cars - cannot come from architects alone and would need the work of politicians, she said.

About 56 per cent of people worldwide live in cities, yet urban areas are responsible for an estimated three-quarters of global CO2 emissions.

Buildings and transport are among the largest sources of urban emissions - including emissions from cars, building construction, heating and cooling systems and lights.

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The importance of cities in efforts to slow climate change continues to grow, with just over two-thirds of people expected to live in urban areas by 2050, according to UN estimates.

Density was necessary for the future sustainability of cities, said architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri, but density without variety was a "nightmare".

As cities expand, planners needed to find ways to encourage richness of function as well as culture, he said.

Boeri also emphasised incorporating nature into city design. "Living nature is not something that is outside our body, outside our house, outside our cities," he said.

"We have to redefine our relation, a new balance between the human sphere and the living nature sphere."