Eco Cities: Is The Future Of The Metropolis Sustainable?

Let’s start with the whopping bottom line: Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy.

After pledges from nations at Cop26 to reach net zero with their emissions, and in a world where more and more of us want to put sustainability first, what does the eco movement mean for the metropolis?

When we think of “eco cities”, the image that forms in most of our minds is a concrete jungle of geometry and vertical greenery – a futuristic utopia where human and plant life live as one. However, in order to truly take action against the shocking levels of pollution and energy consumption within cities, more than just the external needs to be adapted! Instead, we need a complete, internal switch up.

It’s possible though. Here’s how.


Smart Grids

Most power grids across the world were designed over 100 years ago, when our energy needs were less complex and in demand. It’s safe to say we weren’t all plugging in our phones at night or telling Alexa to turn our lights on!

These grids are one-way systems that work simply to provide electricity to households and bill them for it – but as our day-to-day energy demands continue to outgrow these parameters, smart grids are a way to grow with the times and provide electricity more sustainably.

A smart grid utilises a two-way dialogue between energy provider and consumer, exchanging power and information between the two in order to better adapt to the fluctuating needs of the modern household.

They also facilitate newer technologies such as wind turbines, moving away from the passive ‘receive and pay’ energy model and more towards active participation – in the form of plug-in vehicle charging and solar panels on the home. A unity between those receiving the power and those providing it.

Renewable Energy

Following on from the network our energy travels through, it’s only fitting we discuss the energy itself, right?

The Sustainable City in Dubai is a prime example of how urban spaces can thrive (not only survive!) on renewable power. It has been designed to be entirely self-sustaining and powered by clean energy. Everything, including its waste and water recycling, works together to keep it moving. And there isn’t a fossil fuel in sight – with the city’s transport system relying solely on bicycles and electric-powered buggies.

Again, we see the need for unity. In order for a city to be deemed truly “eco”, its waste must fuel its production – and this can only be achieved by harnessing the power sources that are all around us.

Obvious contenders are using the forces of wind and water to produce electricity, but what about biomass and geothermal energy? By burning agricultural and industrial waste we can convert it into energy, and houses can even be heated by the heat found beneath the earth’s surface.

We can use the environment to save the environment.


Smart Water Management

By 2025, water scarcity will be directly affecting 20% of the human population, and this will have an indirect impact on the other 80%. So, it’s not a problem any of us can escape – unless we, the proverbial sitting duck, stand up.

Smart Water Management (SWM) is the use of complex and integrated systems to monitor and control the use and quality of water. Like a smart grid, but for water regulation.

Circular Economies

We’re throwing out some big words in this post. Stick with us!

The majority of our economy is linear and follows a simple three step plan: take-make-dispose.

The circular economy challenges this rigid and wasteful pattern with the concept of a world where nothing goes to waste: It “redefines the economy around principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible.”

The diagram below shows a linear economy (left) vs a circular economy (right):

circular economy

Considered Mobility

70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from cities, ranking them high on the list of those responsible for decarbonising our planet. The key to hacking that number down is by increasing the accessibility of eco-friendly transportation.

Remember Dubai and their city of electric buggies and bicycles? Well, that’s exactly the kind of mobility we mean – with public transport urged and made more frequent, using battery- and electric-powered vehicles, and the ready availability of city-wide charging ports.

Though it isn’t all about wheels! The cities of today are built for cars – grid-like long stretches of tarmac with priority placed on the mobility of vehicles over bipeds.

Let’s look at Buenos Aires, where a road that once made way for twenty lanes of traffic has now had its central road dedicated to the use of buses only. When this change was put into motion, the city saw commute times shrink and once-crowded streets freed up.

Not only do walkable cities help to lower our emissions by maximising the walk and minimising the drive, they also prioritise urban beauty! Wider walkways, safer pedestrian crossings, and whole areas designed for the ease and enjoyment of the very beings the cities exist for: Us.


Skyrise Greenery

We were bound to arrive at Singapore eventually, and when it comes to the race for urban beauty in eco cities, they have beaten the pistol. Home to the world’s highest vertical garden, the Tree House is quite the sight to behold. But what is so special about dressing a building in plants?

Well, it depends how and why it is done. This kind of architectural styling can quickly become its own kind of green washing, if the intentions behind it are not sound. After all, the most sustainable structure you can build is the one that doesn’t need to be built. And no amount of leafy dress-up is going to make up for construction that does not utilise space effectively and is mostly just cosmetic.

In the case of Singapore, they have embraced skyrise greenery the right way! By rejuvenating an existing structure that would have otherwise gone unused and cultivated the long-since-wasted space of urban rooftops, they have created a place for people to visit and make use of – whilst also soaking up the harmful levels of CO2 found in city air.

Though it resembles the image we initially conjured of an eco-metropolis from the future, it does more than just look the part – and that is the key difference!

So, is the future of the metropolis sustainable? Yes, but only if everything and everyone is able and willing to work as one. Cities have become the core and heartbeat of civilisation as we know it; a pulse point of social and economic wealth and innovation.

Let’s make them work with us, for us.

What does the future look like in your eyes? Join the Wearth London community and conversation on Instagram at @wearthlondon.