How Cities are Going Green

By 2030, six of the world’s 41 megacities (cities with more than 10 million people) will be in Africa. Lagos is already a megacity; the city holds 21 million people, with more emigrating from neighbouring rural areas every day. But infrastructure in the city was never meant to hold so many people so fast. The state government knows this, and has been working on several development projects, albeit with less than stellar success. 

The latest project the government has instituted to address the environmental and social challenges that come with urban overcrowding is Lagos Smart City. In June 2016, the Lagos State Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Dubai for assistance to make Lagos into a smart city, the first in Africa. 

The smart city trend is not unexpected. The world over, two entities have been at the forefront of sustainable development and climate adaptation activities – cities and businesses. Cities, not federal or state governments, have been implementing low carbon solutions such as renewable energy plants, infrastructure for electric vehicles, urban agriculture, etc. As Lagos state embarks on this epic (although slow so far) journey to become Africa’s first official smart city, there are loads of case studies which it can leverage and adapt to guide the integrated projects they would need to implement. 

The examples listed below are from the Sustainia’s Sustainable Cities Solutions from their annual Cities100 publication:

Low-Carbon Plans

The obvious first step is to have a definitive plan to guide implementation of smart city projects. For example, the city of Taoyuan in Taiwan has their Low-Carbon Green City Development plan which guides their plan to grow their green industry (with focus on solar technology) and Rio de Janeiro has their Neutral Carbon Rio Strategy which guides their water and clean energy supply measures. Others are Kampala’s Climate Change Action Strategy, Paris’ Climate Action Plan, Addis Ababa’s Climate Resilient Growth Economy Plan, Auckland’s Low Carbon Auckland, Singapore’s Climate Action Plan, etc. Several cities employed a bottom-up approach when developing their plans, e.g. Bologna in Italy and Barcelona in Spain.

Data and measurements

Data collection and analysis is important because it helps direct action where action is most needed. Oakland city in the USA recognizes this and has created their Oakland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. Using this, they measure the consumption of good and services in the city to calculate the associated carbon footprint. This shows them the biggest emitters and helps them prioritize low carbon solutions and industries. Buenos Aires also recently updated their methodology for their emission inventory to improve accuracy.

Revamp transportation

Transport systems form a significant part of any city’s carbon emissions and energy use. Cities are now exploring options to reduce the use of GHG-emitting vehicles. For example, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia has installed lightrail – an intercity tram that carries 15,000 passengers per hour in each direction! The lightrail is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and is powered by renewable energy (hydro, geothermal and wind). Mexico City has increased their bus rapid transit system from two lines to six and incorporated a bike-sharing system. Wuhan city in China has planned to roll out 80,000 bicycles and 3,160 stations by 2018 (they currently have 20,000 bikes and 856 stations); with the stations offering charging facilities for electric vehicles and riders able to claim carbon credits and use those in kind (e.g. for movie tickets, small commodities, etc.). Los Angeles is also introducing an electric car-sharing fleet in disadvantaged communities.

Education and changing mindsets

Operational changes must go hand in hand with behavioral changes to ensure that impacts are long-lasting. Therefore, several cities have started city-wide education programmes about a host of environmental and health issues. For example, Buenos Aires’ Green Schools Program teaches low-income youth about environmental health, energy efficiency, waste management and climate change, with 2,500 schools already participating and 16,000 teachers/ supervisors trained.

Urban farming

Some cities are establishing facilities to encourage urban farming to address food waste and growing populations in urban areas. For example, the Tshwane Food and Energy Center in South Africa has 25 plots for entrepreneurial farmers to farm vegetables and chickens. The center reuses livestock organic waste in their biogas facility as well as uses solar power. The City of Curitiba in Brazil has re-purposed unused contaminated land into urban community farms for local food production.

Green space

Green spaces/parks are an important part of cities in that they allow for vegetation which gives us oxygen, and help cool the concrete jungles. Mexico City’s easily-accessible Parque Lineal La Viga does that and more. About 60% of the park’s area is a rain water catchment and mitigates floods. The collected stormwater is treated and distributed as potable water sources! Also, the city of Salvador is planting 20,000 trees in an old waste dump area and using treated sludge as fertilizer for the trees.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy

Buildings are one of the biggest sources of emissions in cities due to their inefficient energy use. As such, several cities are incentivising home owners to make their buildings more efficient. The city of Adelaide in Australia provides significant reimbursements to homeowners and tenants for installation of green improvement retrofits (e.g. solar hot water systems, solar panels, electric vehicle charging points, etc.). Large public institutions in China, as well as government agencies in New York, are now mandated to conduct energy audits and install efficiency upgrades. Paris is changing its energy mix by powering 50% of its district heating network with renewable energy. Vancouver in the US is taking this further and is aiming to power 100% of the city with renewable energy! Furthermore, cities like Washington DC and Stockholm have invested in large biomass plants to produce bioenergy, and Istanbul has installed Turkey’s largest gas-to-energy facility

Waste management

Cities are being creative and innovative in the way they handle waste, which is a major challenge for urban spaces. Quito in Ecuador, Delhi in India, Johannesburg in South Africa and Bogota in Colombia have invested in organic or inorganic waste-to-energy plants where wastes are diverted from landfills to the plants to create electricity. Buenos Aires invested in an Environmental Park which processes different waste stream – from construction waste to plastic and organic waste, all at one facility; it also has an education center. Kolkata is engaged in a city-wide program of waste segregation from source, including an intensive eight-year mass awareness program.

Water and flood management

The Dutch city of Nijmegen gave more room to their Waal River as well as dug a new river channel, thus protecting them from floods during high tides. In Chicago’s poorest neighbourhoods, a school car park doubles as a stormwater catchment area. Also, the megacity of Hong Kong uses sea water to flush the toilets of 85% of the population. New Orleans is undertaking different initiatives to capture rainwater (through green roofs, bioswales, etc.). In Eugene in the USA, local waste haulers, the city management, local retailers and commercial compost facilities collaborate to collect food waste and turn it into compost. 

In summary

Cities all over the world are implementing or planning many other projects in order to improve energy efficiency, reduce GHG emissions, protect natural resources, dispose of wastes in a healthy manner and ultimately improve the lives of their residents. These projects generally cover the following:

  • Replacing outdated industrial equipment in public utilities
  • Encouraging locals to produce their own solar energy
  • Constructing low-carbon buildings
  • Constructing rail transport system
  • Limiting entry permits for high-carbon projects
  • Stricter emissions standards and policies
  • Developing more green space and areas, with shade options
  • Promoting urban agriculture – with training
  • Carrying out climate training 
  • Planting trees and constructing green spaces
  • Construction of bicycle lanes and networks
  • Ease of getting solar panel installation permits
  • Providing affordable housing built near rail transit stations
  • Implementing water recycling purification programs 
  • Launching specific road maps on affordable and climate resilient housing 
  • Installing electric trains
  • Carrying out city-wide organic waste collection scheme
  • Changing street light bulbs to energy efficient LED
  • Mandating 100% renewable energy sourcing
  • Providing workplace public transport cards
  • Mandating sustainable procurement of several other products
  • Mandating every new building to have a green certification and to provide an electric vehicle charging facility
  • Providing low cost financing for housing retrofits
  • Using zero-emission construction vehicles and machinery
  • Installing map that tracks hourly building energy use and shows demand and supply patterns
  • Replacing public taxi fleets with electric cars 
  • Initiating universal fare-free public transportation for all citizens
  • Replacing diesel used in public bus fleets with biomethane from landfills