What Will the (Blue) Cities of the Future Look Like?

What Will the (Blue) Cities of the Future Look Like?

01.10.2019
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What will Barcelona look like in 20 years from now? And how will changes in the city affect the health of its inhabitants? These questions were central themes during the BlueHealth Futures workshop in Barcelona. Experts and local professionals with backgrounds in water quality management, public health, spatial planning, architecture, and climate discussed what developments Barcelona will be facing in the coming decades when it comes to its urban waters and its potential to affect public health and well-being.

What will Barcelona look like in 20 years from now? And how will changes in the city affect the health of its inhabitants? These questions were central themes during the BlueHealth Futures workshop in Barcelona

The workshop started with a plenary presentation of the Horizon 2020 BlueHealth project and presentation of case studies that are carried out by ISGlobal in the Barcelona region. After that, the experts were asked about their leading value or perspective to consider for BlueHealth futures.

The most dominant values mentioned included climate change adaptation and equity (blue health as a tool to balance socio-cultural inequalities). What followed was a prioritization of a broad selection of trends according to their relevance for BlueHealth in Barcelona. This resulted in a ranking of these trends. Trends that were identified as most dominant for Barcelona are:

1. Changes in income distribution

2. Climate change

3. Water scarcity

4. Changing institutional and governance structures

5. Technology development towards smart urban water systems

6. Increasing life expectancy

In the second part of the workshop we discussed how the selected trends might impact the city and what interventions could be taken in order to shape the future in a positive way. The previously identified dominant values climate change adaptation and equity were used as core themes to guide these discussions.

For example, we discussed that the effects of climate change will become significant towards the end of the 21st century, but extreme weather events (heavy rainfall, heat waves and periods of drought) will occur more frequently in the coming decades in the Barcelona region.

Potential interventions that were discussed are increasing blue and green spaces in the city to retain water and form a source of cooling and shade during warm periods in summer (nature-based solutions). Also, public campaigns to inform and increase awareness of the importance of efficient water use, especially in periods of droughts were discussed. At the same time, vulnerable populations and poorer neighborhoods will likely be more affected by the consequences of climate change. This might lead to an increase of vulnerable populations threatened by energy poverty, health problems and increasing costs of living due to climate change.

Equal access to blue and green spaces in and around the city must therefore be ensured, for example by creating more public spaces that stimulate active mobility (walking, biking), especially in deprived neighborhoods (e.g. “superblocks” model in Barcelona). Furthermore, the inclusion of needs, ideas and perceptions of different stakeholders, especially citizens, in plans for creating more blue and green spaces within the city were underlined to improve equity in Barcelona.

Equal access to blue and green spaces in and around the city must therefore be ensured, for example by creating more public spaces that stimulate active mobility (walking, biking), especially in deprived neighborhoods

The BlueHealth Futures workshops are being done in six cities: Amsterdam, Plymouth, Barcelona, Tallinn, Malmo and Thessaloniki. The workshop discussions will help us understand how Europe’s cities might evolve in the context of BlueHealth over the coming decades.

One way of describing the scenarios is by using a visual narrative, as an aid to decision makers to engage and discuss the subject of urban blue environments and health. Barcelona’s visual narrative is shown below and includes the main themes and important quotes from during the workshop.

Visual narrative of the workshop held in Barcelona. It summarizes the main themes and the most important quotes.

 

The BlueHealth project is a pan-European research initiative investigating the links between environment, climate and health. The project specifically focusses on understanding how water-based environments in towns and cities can affect health and wellbeing. Within the project, scenarios are being developed that explore how rapidly changing climates and environments will affect our relationships with urban blue infrastructure.

 

This work has been carried out under the BlueHealth project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 666773.