Making cities ‘green and healthy’ goes far beyond simply reducing CO2 emissions.Cities have long been known to be the society’s predominant engine of innovation and wealth creation, yet they are also its main source of pollution and disease. However, in many cities there is still scope for further improvement in environmental quality through targeted policies.
Making cities ‘green and healthy’ goes far beyond simply reducing CO2 emissions. Environmental factors are highly modifiable, and environmental interventions at the community level, such as urban and transport planning, have been shown to be promising and more cost effective than interventions at the individual level. However the urban environment is a complex interlinked system.
While in cities there are often pillars of urban planning, mobility and transport, parks and green space, environmental department, (public) health department that do not work together well enough, multisectorial approaches are needed to tackle the problems. A holistic approach to urban planning, environmental, transport and energy issues has to be adopted, as the many components of the natural ecosystem are interwoven with those of the social, economic, cultural and political urban system in a unique manner.
A good example in Europe is Copenhaguen, winner of the European Green Capital Award given by the European ComissionA sustainable city must have attractive open public spaces and promote sustainable, inclusive and healthy mobility. Some potential policies such as a reduction of car use by increasing active transportation and increasing green space areas may have joint effects in that they may not only reduce environmental exposures such as air pollution, noise, and temperature (i.e heat islands), but also increase physical activity, UV exposure, and social contacts and reduce stress, and thereby reduce morbidity and premature mortality. Furthermore it creates co-benefits such as reduction in CO2 reduction and congestion. Indeed, the city of the future needs to be a green city, a social city, an active city, a healthy city.
A good example in Europe is Copenhaguen. Winner of the European Green Capital Award given by the European Comission, Copenhagen has placed public-private partnerships at the core of its approach to eco-innovation and sustainable employment. The city works with companies, universities and organisations in dedicated forums to develop and implement green growth. Its North Harbour project, for example, will include a “Green laboratory” that will focus on eco-technologies, a model that can be transferred to other towns and cities. This example of green economic development tackling environmental, economic and social concerns has high potential for replication in the region around the city and beyond.
Copenhaguen is also something of a transport pioneer, aiming to become the world’s most practicable city for cyclists. Its goal is to have 50 % of people cycling to their place of work or education by 2015 (35 % cycled to their workplace or school in 2010), helping the city reach an ambitious goal of being CO2 neutral by 2025. In terms of Energy Performance, an estimated 75% of the CO2 reductions will come from initiatives in relation to the city’s energy system mainly involving an increase in the share of renewable energy in the City’s district heating. The city has clearly set itself the overall goal to be the world’s best city for cyclists. Definitely, a role model.
[Mark Nieuwenhuijsen is a researcher at CREAL, ISGlobal’s research centre on environmental epidemiology.]