The top 5 eco-cities stories in 2014

Year in Review: In 2014, global efforts in sustainable development were marked by international collaborations, pledges on emissions reductions and the development of smart cities.

Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population live in urban areas and this is set to grow to 66 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

A UN study in July projected that urbanization - combined with population growth - could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. The largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria. Together, they will account for 37 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050. 

The rapid growth of cities – in size and population – poses numerous challenges in resource consumption, environmental impact, energy and water security, among others.

To address these issues, various organisations all over the world have launched initiatives to help cities become more sustainable and resilient to shocks and stresses - a timely move, considering plans by Asian govenrments to build hundreds of smart cities in coming years.

Here’s our pick of the top 5 developments this year: 

1. Resilient cities of the future  

Resilience was a notable theme that emerged in the global discourse on cities in 2014. The Rockefeller Foundation earlier this month welcomed 35 cities around the globe into its 100 Resilient Cities network in the second phase of its US$100 million initiative, which provides technical and financial support to cities to prepare for challenges such as natural disasters, food and water security, stress on public infrastructure, and pollution.

Nine cities from Asia Pacific were among the 35 selected ones, including Bangalore, India; Deyang and Hangshi from China; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Singapore; Toyama, Japan; Sydney, Australia; and Wellington City, New Zealand. Each city will receive funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer to lead the process, and technical support to develop and implement a resilience strategy. 

The announcement followed a new book, The Resilience Dividend, written by the foundation’s president Judith Rodin. Through case studies from around the world, she outlined how people, organizations, businesses, communities, and cities have developed resilience in the face of otherwise catastrophic challenges.

2. The era of smart cities in Asia

The concept of the “smart city” - where digital technologies are used to enhance resource efficiency and well-being of citizens - took off in a major way in Asia, with India and China along announcing plans to build hundreds of new smart cities in the future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a vision to build 100 smart cities by an unspecified date, which would be fitted with hi-tech communication and information technology. These would help officials address problems such as traffic congestion faster, and also attract foreign investors, said Modi.

Urban development experts however were sceptical about the ambition, pointing out that basic necessities such as secure housing and access to sanitation must first be secured for India’s poorest before moving on to technological advancements.

China, too, announced an $8 billion fund to invest in smart city technology this year. It is also collaborating with Microsoft under its CityNext initiative to transform 200 Chinese cities into smart-cities using cloud computing, mega data, mobilization and social networking. The timeline for this was not revealed.

3. Singapore and Andhra Pradesh unveil plans for a S$21 billion new capital city

In what is arguably the biggest deal of the year for cities in Asia, the Singapore Government in December signed an agreement with the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to jointly plan and develop the state’s new capital city and its surrounding regions - which is about ten times the size of Singapore.

As part of the S$21.36 billion project, Singapore will create the masterplan for the city and develop the first eight square kilometre section with state representatives from Andhra Pradesh. This plan will include details on logistics infrastructure such as ports and airports; power, water and sanitation utilities; and industrial facilities to support manufacturing.  

S Iswaran, Singapore’s second minister for trade and industry, noted that in addition to creating a new vibrant and sustainable city centre for Andhra Pradesh - which requires a new capital city after its current capital of Hyderabad will be annexed by the newly formed state of Telangana - the project would also provide business opportunities for Singapore to contribute its expertise in urban planning and governance.

Singapore, which has set its sights on becoming a smart city leader in Asia, also unveiled several new initiatives, including a S$73 million project to model the entire city in 3D, which would in turn serve as a platform for locating amenities in neighbourhood, analysing pedestrian flow, and optimising the delivery of municipal services.

4.  The globalisation of cities - World Cities Summit 2014

In June, over 130 Mayors and city leaders, together with businesses, international organisations, researchers and urban planners discussed strategies to develop more resilient, sustainable, and liveable cities at the World Cities Summit 2014 in Singapore.

Experts at the summit called for governments to demonstrate bold and honest leadership to ensure sustainable and thriving cities, and expressed optimism about the prospects for sustainable urban growth in Asia. Several new collaborations were announced, including the launch of a grant fund by Singapore government agencies JTC Corporation and Spring Singapore to support the test-bedding of sustainable technologies, and a renewed collaboration between the Danish Urban Land Institute and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities to make Singapore more conducive to walking and cycling.

5. Cities take the lead on fighting climate change at UN Climate Summit

Leaders from over 200 cities around the world pledged to expand their commitments to scaling up climate resilience efforts, energy efficiency programmes, and financing mechanisms. This collective initiative, known as the Compact of Mayors, would help reduce greenhoues gas emissions by 454 megatonnes by 2020.

The scale of this commitment, combined with a growing recognition that cities are increasingly growing in economic influence and population size, prompted observers to comment that “cities will solve climate change, not nations“.

This story is part of our Year in Review series, which looks at the top stories that shaped the business and sustainability scene in each of our 11 categories.

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