• Lev Mikulitski

The opportunities that lie in turning cities into smart and sustainable.

As 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, we better ask the question, what is it that makes a city "sustainable". And the answer that I want to give through this article is twofold. One, is that it is a green city. Green in the literal sense that there are parks and places of people and open areas combined, but also green in the sense that its economic impact on the environment, the ecological footprint of the city is also limited. The other dimension of a sustainable city is that it is resilient. Why resilient? Because we in the age of the Anthropocene, in the era of planetary boundaries, in a period where whether we like it or not, we are going to be experiencing more jolts of human induced climate change. Know that the cities are going to be buffeted. If the cities are on the coasts, and sea levels are rising, what that means in terms of vulnerability to storm surges more intense cyclones and other storms, other dislocations, is very great. And so cities need to prepare for those shocks, not as disasters that seemingly come out of the blue, but rather as known, even if unpredictable specific events that need to be prepared for with significant care.

So what is it that makes a city sustainable? Let me mention a few of the crucial points that we need to explore. One is the city's energy system, it's infrastructure. Is the city a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, especially through its energy use but also through landfills that may emit methane or through a problematic industrial processes that are emitting nitrous oxide? Or is the city efficient, both energy efficient and based on a low carbon clean energy system? What about transport? Cities can be places of incredible congestion, smog, huge waiting times, traffic jams, and of course large amounts of CO2 emissions coming from all those internal combustion engines, burning all of that petroleum and diesel. Or cities can be places of highly efficient transport through very clever integration of walking areas, bicycling areas, as well as various kinds of public transportation, taking the pressure and the demand off of the automobile. And so the nature of the city's transport is a crucial determinant of its sustainability.

A city's infrastructure, its water sanitation, its waste management, its ability to recycle industrial wastes and to control industrial pollution are clearly fundamental determinants of a city's sustainability. How effectively the city plans and prepares for the future is obviously decisive. Not one of these issues, energy systems, transport systems, waste management, recycling, open green areas, resiliency to shocks, is something that takes care of itself for something that is solved by a market economy, certainly not a market economy just left to run on its own. Urban resilience and urban efficiency and low ecological footprint, low impact on the natural environment are aspects of city life that must be planned.

In this context, the question arises, what tools are currently available to governments in order not only to plan a sustainable city strategy, but also to measure the relative harm of each of the parties involved. After all, if we do not measure, how can we plan, and what is the true value of management here? Let's examine the case of air pollution as a parameter that contributes to 4.2 million deaths annually, more than from malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS combined. This problem is particularly severe in the developing world where most of us live. National governments allocate substantial budgets to combat air pollution. The India's government, for example allocated about 0.5B $ for 2021 targeting 42 cities where this problem has a devastating impact on quality of life. But how the decision makers can understand that the specific contribution of transportation for example to pollution exceeds that of the manufacturing industry or vice versa? So measurement, mitigation and forecast tools are required for decision makers in order to carry out effective management that has a real value.

Are such tools available to us today? Happily, in the case of air pollution we do, and this is exactly the value proposition of XD Cleantech. XD’s pioneering Dynamic Air Quality Control System (DACS) combines over 50 years of academic research in photo-chemical air quality grid modeling, monte-carlo uncertainty analysis & path-breaking neutral active object AI algorithms with cutting-edge high performance computing to deliver the most comprehensive and reliable air quality control systems. It's a comprehensive solution targeting every smart city to be. Solutions like XD are actually a necessity for our existential capabilities and the way to ensure sustainability in a significantly larger order as cities and states.

As someone who intends to live in tomorrow's world, let's also ask the following question: "What does it mean for a city to be unsustainable?" Well, first, it means that the city is highly vulnerable to shocks. Shocks again may seem like they're coming out of the blue, but they can be predicted if not in exact timing at least with probabilities of their visitations. Cyclones, droughts, earthquakes in many places, floods and storm surges, landslides, in a few cities volcanoes, are threats to lives, to livelihoods, to the economy and mitigating those threats, anticipating the risks, making cities resilient able to withstand shocks such as these is absolutely a fundamental part of sustainability and a fundamental signal of unsustainability when those preparations are not made.

Pollution of the air and the water, the kind that afflicts unfortunately dozens and dozens of China's cities today after 30 years of rapid industrial growth, but insufficient attention to the pollution consequences cause many cities to be hazards for their populations, the air that people breathe, the water they drink, can take years of life away. Cities are unsustainable when they haven't prepared properly for their water supplies.

Just about every city in the world, has a huge job to do in anticipating water needs and ensuring that water and sewerage, waste treatment are properly managed. And there are many, many choices as to how to do that, as can be described by the New York City example. New York has managed very cleverly to provide a city of more than eight million people and an urban agglomeration far larger than that with safe water at relatively low cost by thinking ahead. Cities are unsustainable when they are unproductive because people are sitting in traffic jams for hours every day breathing polluted air, losing productivity, poor health, social inequalities that make it impossible for a large parts of the population to participate in a productive way in the economy of the city. And cities are unsustainable when populations are suffering from a massive and growing disability of health.

Another example: When an obesity epidemic coming from unsafe food combined with sedentary behavior of city life, with an absence of places for walking, bicycling, exercise for a healthy lifestyle mean that people are ill, they are often disabled, absent from work, and of course suffering a serious setback in their sense of well-being. So these are choices that cities have to make. And a lot is known about what it is that determines whether the ecological impact is high or low, whether the city has a large greenhouse gas emission factor per person or a low one. Whether the city is functioning in a way that is providing for the productivity of the population.

There are many more issues to include here and even more examples to give, though to sum up, to get the best of what cities can offer in terms of low ecological footprint combined with high productivity, with an ease of movement, with low congestion, with the low level of time wasted in traffic jams and other disamenities, we have to look at how cities invest in the infrastructure and the choices they make. We need to look what tools are available to cities in order to measure the impact of their decisions optimally. In the end, we want to live in smart cities. Smart cities are first and foremost cities that do not harm us and it is our responsibility to make sure that it will not happen.

#vc #SDG #impactinvesting

© 2016 by Mikulitski Critical Consulting. All rights reserved.

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