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How can we boost the health of our cities?

Fast growing cities need viable solutions for rapid urbanization and population growth.

Cities occupy 2% of total land but account for 54% of the world population. A UN report projects that by 2030, the urban population of developing countries will double and 90% of that increase is expected to be concentrated in Asia and Africa.

These numbers assume greater significance when we consider the environmental impact of cities – they represent 60% of global energy consumption, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of global waste.

As population grows and urbanisation increases, living conditions are not likely to improve. As per UN Habitat estimates, 881 million people already live in slums in cities of developing countries. By 2025, another 1.6 billion are likely to require adequate, affordable housing.

Urban Woes

The pressure on natural resources like water is another major problem faced by cities. A  2014 survey of water infrastructure in the world’s largest cities found that one in four cities are water stressed – a situation where demand for water exceeds supply. Cape Town leads the list, followed by cities like Bengaluru, Beijing, Sao Paulo, London and Tokyo.

Crumbling infrastructure, poor housing and sanitation facilities, plummeting air quality levels, increased susceptibility to natural disasters and rising incidences of communicable and incommunicable diseases are some of the other challenges cities across the globe face today.

Many of the challenges faced by cities today are a result of rapid urbanization, population growth and poor planning. Thus, proper planning with the focus on sustainability is the crucial need of the hour.

Showing the way in urban planning

There are however, reasons to be optimistic. There are several examples of well thought-out action plans to save cities, initiatives driven by technology, citizen participation, proactive government policy and public-private participation. For example, Norway’s Tonsberg Waste to Energy PPP converts sewage sludge, food waste, organic commercial waste and manure into biogas for heating, electricity production and fuel for biogas.

The UN Habitat report talks about how the private sector can play a crucial role in urban sustainability through collaborations with government and civil society for developing ‘smart’ and ‘eco’ cities. An example is South Korea’s Songdo International Business District - electronic sensors monitor roads and can inform residents about the traffic situation so they can plan their travel. Energy use is also monitored and residents can control lighting and air conditioning in their houses remotely, if they’ve forgotten to switch off anything. The entire city is being built using eco-friendly design principles including vegetated green roofs to prevent storm-water runoff, energy-efficient LED traffic lights and an underground waste system disposal system.

Another example is Pune, where community involvement in solid waste management has changed waste disposal habits for the better, improved livelihoods and enabled composting. The solid waste management efforts in the city have reportedly resulted in 50%-55% segregation at source in a city that generates 1600-1700 metric tonnes of waste per day. One significant factor was the involvement of committed individuals and groups across the chain from official authorities and institutions to private players such NGOs and individuals.

Also, with the involvement of private sector, there was better distribution and management of responsibilities. For example, 25 bio-methane plants producing a whopping 600 kw of electricity, were reportedly managed by private players. The plan also had effective incentives built into it like a 5% tax rebate and recognition for innovative initiatives in water disposal. Public-private partnership also played a part in generating awareness and helping workers involved at the grass-root level.

Leveraging technology for better management of cities

Science and chemistry are at the crux of most of these initiatives aimed at combating the urban challenges. This is why BASF, a major player in the sustainable technology space, is continuously investing in R&D and developing solutions that focus on creating greener cities through sustainable alternatives.

For example, rampant construction activities in cities are a major cause for concern, given their impact on environment. BASF’s Green Sense® Concrete, a special type of concrete mix which uses recycled cementitious materials, helps reduce carbon emissions and achieve energy savings of 70%-80%. The Green Sense® Concrete solution was used when building the One World Trade Centre in New York, helping avoid 15 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. Innovative solutions from BASF have also helped other construction projects across the globe, like the Green Island development project in Shanghai, achieve energy savings of 70% to 80%.

In addition to this, BASF is able to innovate through chemistry to help mitigate air pollution, water scarcity and the effects of natural disasters. Its solutions include ecovio®, a bioplastic used to make compostable plastic bags and Elastopave® a paving solution for roads and pavement, which absorbs water efficiently and helps to replenish the ground water table. Some of BASF’s solutions to solve the problems cities face can be seen here.

These solutions show that if we work together to counter the complex problems cities face, we can ensure a better quality of life in the future. Better planning and a widespread adoption of these innovative solutions that strive for sustainability will be crucial to model our growing cities into dynamic hubs where people can live better lives.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.