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The world’s cities are taking the initiative on a range of environmental and social problems, from climate change adaptation to access to affordable food
Lauren Sorkin is the executive director of the Resilient Cities Network
With 2022 underway, I see renewed energy and support worldwide for investing in an equitable, circular, and intentional future. Here are five reasons why I’m optimistic.
We will be energized.
Einstein said, “Everything is energy and that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy.”
Hundreds of new policies and regulations, and trillions of stimulus dollars, are expediting our transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. COP26 was a watershed moment - not because of the agreements that were reached but because of the level of attention and understanding it fostered.
The climate challenge is well known and the call to action is now mainstream, with two-thirds of S&P 500 companies setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.
2022 will be the year when global momentum towards these common goals tips the scales and delivers important breakthroughs in technology, finance, and governance.
We will make communities more equitable by investing
In 2022, we will see facilities and measures put in place to make communities safer places to live and work during the COVID19 pandemic become permanent.
In the 70s, the phrase “Not in my backyard” (or “NIMBY") described residents who vigorously opposed new developments where they lived that they considered undesirable or hazardous – but would raise no objections to similar developments elsewhere.
Today there’s a counter-movement in which residents campaign to improve their neighbourhoods, via community boards, city councils and other bodies.
We already see examples of the “Yes, In My Back Yard” spirit with the community groups that have worked to redesign lower Manhattan in the years since Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. More recently Rotterdam’s “Resilient BoTu 2028” project combines transformative infrastructure for renewable energy and climate change adaptation with social programs that improve quality of life through education, job opportunities and social inclusion.
Add in COVID recovery and climate-focused stimulus initiatives such as Build Back Better across the US and “Glasgow’s “Spaces for People” programme, and this phenomenon will continue to spread.
We will be more circular
In 2022, we will reuse and upcycle more, and consume and trash less. Circular initiatives like recycled fashion and waste-to-energy technology will supplant the “take, make, waste” economy.
R-Cities’ Urban Ocean program works with cities in South and Southeast Asia and Latin America to reduce plastic waste, encourage circular economies, and build cleaner, healthier and more resilient communities for the long term.
We will be more intentional, holistic and prepared
Jet-set lifestyles and just-in-time delivery are out of style. Instead, we will weigh up our safety, health and wellbeing, and also the health of the planet, in our decisions.
In business, those responsible for managing risk – insurance providers, legal experts and financiers - will play an essential role helping weight the trade-offs of important choices about how to invest stimulus monies and hard-earned profits .
Cities that combine human capacity with data-driven decision-making in their planning will thrive and be resilient. For example, when COVID-19 struck Cape Town, the city drew on the lessons learned at the peak of the water crisis in 2017 and 2018 about how to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
In their response to the pandemic, city authorities drew upon many of the measures created to counter the severe water shortage endured by Cape Town a few years earlier. In just eight weeks, they expanded existing community healthcare centres and also created 39 new facilities.
The flexible infrastructure rapidly created by Cape Town demonstrates resilient investment in action. The extra health capacity at a community level has increased equitable access to healthcare for people, and also puts the city in a stronger position to respond to the next unexpected disruption.
We will empower cities as platforms for change
Today, we humans are predominantly an urban species. Despite COVID-19, in 2022 cities will recover as places of creativity, innovative ideas, and new economic opportunity.
For example: in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, city authorities made food security and enabling access for citizens to locally-sourced healthy, nutritious food a priority. Between April 2019 and March 2020, the city supported the creation of more than 220 urban farms across Quito, which each sell their produce into the local neighbourhoods.
As well as improving the diets of the city’s inhabitants – including those living in some of its poorest areas – the farms have bolstered Quito’s food security, transformed the wealth of the families who run them, and encouraged a raft of new women entrepreneurs.
Around the world, cities are the beacons of hope that in 2022 will light the way towards a more equitable, resilient and sustainable future.
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