Towards the socially sustainable city
Today half of all the people in the world live in cities. And that number is growing. ÅF is participating in developing methods of planning, building and running tomorrow’s cities, where more and more people will demand ever safer, climateadapted living, working and playing environments with reduced energy use and sustainable consumption levels.
Cities soon home to 80 percent of humanity
For the first time in history a majority of the world’s population now lives in urban environments. The world will soon see the emergence of many new mega-cities of 10 million people and more. Already Tokyo is home to a mind-boggling 36 million inhabitants, while Mexico City, Mumbai and Lagos have close to 20 million. At current rates almost 80 percent of people on the planet will be city-dwellers by 2030.
Rapid urbanisation is a huge challenge for sustainability. The environmental impact of cities is already increasing; today they account for more than 70 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Factoring economic and environmental considerations into urban development projects and new-builds is no longer a novelty. Increased segregation and the rise of social inequality in cities has propelled the issue of social sustainability high up political and business agendas. “Today we are seeing increased awareness of the need for social sustainability – from local government, the finance sector and the construction industry. Clients and contractors are starting to realise that, in the long term, social investments are actually profitable. Social sustainability goes hand in hand with good business. There’s no conflict of interest,” says Josef Sjöberg, an expert in socially sustainable urban development at ÅF.
Democratising public spaces
To create a socially sustainable city it is important for all citizens to have a voice in the planning process and in creating the public spaces. Studies show that women are given less opportunity to participate in urban planning and that cities are most often planned to meet the needs of men. Women are more likely to feel insecure in urban environments, often to extents that constrain their freedom of movement. Adopting a gender-neutral approach to planning is crucial if everyone is to be able to enjoy the same access to the city’s facilities.
The potential of the city
In big cities many people live in close proximity, often in limited spaces. However, this proximity generates many encounters between people that provide opportunities to exchange perspectives, reassess prejudices and build relationships. Good urban planning can counteract social disparities and lay the foundation for a hassle-free daily life and socially sustainable development. It can create attractive physical environments and efficient public transport, and lead to reduced energy use and sustainable consumption, with ecosystem services and climate-adapted surroundings that promote good health and a flourishing natural environment.
ÅF drives developments
ÅF is taking an active role in various urban development projects in Sweden and elsewhere. This involves everything from planning roads and public transport to creating the homes and hospitals of the future, developing tomorrow’s lighting and acoustics solutions and contributing expertise on sustainability issues and social perspectives. In 2014 one of the regions where ÅF helped lay the foundation for a sustainable urban future was Gothenburg.
Twenty years from now Gothenburg expects to have 150,000 more residents and be the hub in a labour market of some 1,750,000 people. Early in the new millennium the city council published its vision for “The Good City”, a vibrant and inclusive place where everyone feels at home in a dynamic green environment.
In spring 2014, as part of this long-term initiative, the civic development company Älvstranden AB and a consortium that included the City of Gothenburg issued a tender for a parallel consulting assignment. Together with experts from Kanozi Architects, ÅF was chosen to form one of four teams to work in parallel on a vision for the future of the waterfront Masthuggskajen area.