The timeline of history has seen several markers that can be considered advances in civilization. Some epochs began movements of relatively slow progress, such as the development of sustainable farming; other moments occurred relatively quickly: the rise of computer technology, for example. The various industrial revolutions fell into the latter camp, where towns, cities, and factories expanded seemingly overnight. With industrial progress came significant labor and health problems, however.
Until the early 1900s, city workers and tenement dwellers faced harsh conditions. Then, reform movements grew. These were consequences of the expository writings of muckraker journalists and tragic events such as the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which over 120 women and girls died. While various public policy initiatives have sprung up throughout the 1900s, recently the movement to plan for progressive, sustainable urban areas has come into focus. These cities are designed to incorporate economic, health, environmental, and other positive structures in ways such that they can exist for generations of dwellers. What are some of the elements that can be factors of sustainability?
Rural visitors to large cities and metropolises can find themselves overwhelmed by the number of vehicles. Drivers often must plan for congestion, which is an urban fact-of-life. Lack of parking, commuting delays, and unhealthy air are consequences of an excess of cars and drivers. Cities of the future can plan for the following:
- Vehicle-free areas
- Improved mass transit
- Electric charging stations
- Cycling and walking pathways
- Hubbed resources
The elimination of vehicles and the removal of smog-producing cars contribute to positive health and quality-of-life. Hubbed resources, however, where shopping and entertainment are spread equally throughout a city, takes these benefits a step further: These areas are designed to meet the basic needs of eating and socializing while eliminating the need to drive great distances to meet these needs. This component is central to making cities livable communities.
Creating a city that thrives involves enlisting different constituents. Business leaders, politicians, activists, and health policy career experts can all bring equally important perspectives to the drafting board. Often, their needs are linked. For example, politicians and retailers may share the goal of reducing homelessness, though potentially for different reasons. Health-care experts and activists seek to make resources available to traditionally disenfranchised communities. Large urban areas can thrive if the needs of all in the community are met so that none are disadvantaged.
Buildings and Energy Resources
Planning for building sustainable cities needs to focus on environmentally-forward structures and energy supplies. Buildings should be built to green standards, including energy efficiency, low-toxicity, adaptability, and flexibility. They also must be incorporated into the hub-centric planning where some buildings host various functions. Sustainable sources should be developed to generate energy for these buildings; where feasible, solar energy can supply high-efficiency water, waste, and heating and cooling systems.
Structuring future cities to thrive for eons will depend on creative thinking and planning. Methods of urban development based on centuries-old models will only lead to decaying legacies. Creating cities to be sustainable, life-affirming centers should benefit current populations and generations down the road.