RETHINKING CITIES: SMARTER, SUSTAINABLE, MORE LIVABLE COMMUNITIES
According to the United Nations – Habitat, World Cities Report "sustainable urbanization remains central to overall sustainable development by creating economic, social and environmental value that supports the fight against inequality, climate change and other global challenges." It is critical, especially against the backdrop of the 2020 pandemic, to rethink and revisit the path forward to harness the power of cities as sustainable ecosystems that can create value towards building resilient communities, societies and economies at scale.
The rapid development of cities poses unique challenges at a time when urban areas worldwide are threatened by climate and environmental change. Given the current landscape – what are the varying technological, political and governance structures that cities need to explore in order to pave the way for sustainable growth? Will shifts in social and cultural behaviors be accounted for and ingrained in this growth? How can we make cities smarter and more sustainable using the latest technologies from renewable energy to smart grids? Be it moving towards more green mobility spaces, creating more walking and cycling paths, building public-private partnerships, development of local urban farms, crowd sourced solutions or increased accountability and transparency across funding and implementation.
The one-hour live web-talk, Rethinking Cities, contributed to this ongoing dialogue by addressing issues of sustainability, smart technologies, governance and design from the perspective of the communities that inhabit these spaces.
Is this the right time for smart cities?
After welcoming remarks by Yasemin Pamuk (Head of Cultural Affairs and Science at the German Consulate General New York) and Benedikt Brisch (Director Regional Office New York at DAAD German Academic Exchange Service), moderator Christopher Iu introduces all of the panelists. The first of the three – Thorsten Schneiders - started off with a thought-provoking question: “Is it the right time for smart cities?” As a Professor for Energy Storage, Integrated Energy Systems and Smart Technologies at TH Köln, Thorsten Schneiders informs the audience about prevailing technologies in the renewable energies sector as well as the integration of smart systems, enhanced by accelerated digitalization.
You could use all those digital means to connect different components of the energy systems.(Thorsten Schneiders)
Schneiders stresses that a sustainable energy supply increases the quality of life as it proves to be less pollutant and requires lower energy costs. He adds that changes are imminent and we need to adjust the system accordingly. BUT - he continues - unfortunately "it ain’t that easy to turn SMART by tomorrow" – a lot of barriers are in our way. Therefore, Thorsten Schneiders and his team at TH Köln continue to try and shed light onto the matter, through research and field work.
SMART, SMART-ER, the SMARTEST?
The second panelist is Lutz Becker, Program director of the Master in Sustainable Marketing & Leadership and Head of the Business School at Hochschule Fresenius in Cologne. The mission of said Master's program is, according to Lutz Becker, "making this planet a little bit better". A turning point, he emphasizes, was the year 2007 “because it was not only the year when Steve Jobs presented the iPhone, it was the first year more people lived in cities than in rural areas.”
Another interesting fact he adds, is that “in 2050, 80% of the global GDP will be generated in cities”. Thus, topics like markets, sustainability, human organizations and leadership will gain in importance for smart cities. Next, Lutz Becker talks about selected challenges, such as “fast growing cities and slow growing infrastructure,” or the “overuse of resources”. He also teaches us, what SMART-ER cities are all about:
This is just the beginning!
Our third panelist, Natalie Eßig, is a practicing architect and professor for architecture and building climatology at HM Hochschule München University of Applied Sciences. Additionally, she serves as auditor for the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) and as an energy advisor. She talks about the building sector and its consumption of 60% in terms of waste, 40% in energy, and 50% in resources. Furthermore, when examining the building sector, it is crucial to induce social change. This predominantly concerns the question of whether the material, which is used, always has to be the cheapest – in many cases child labor is used in the extraction of raw materials. Natalie Eßig mentions the sustainability of buildings and introduces a holistic approach for residential buildings that covers a wide range, from solar houses – popular in the 1980s – to Plus-energy houses – which first came up around 2010.
Energy is going up, and this is a big problem.
For architects, planning involves efficiency (“better”), sufficiency (“less”), and consistency (“different”).
Natalie Eßig closes with a short overview of the important topic of the circular economy in the construction sector. A question that needs to be adressed is: What kind of materials are used in our construction, in our cities? With her students at HM, Natalie Eßig worked on a research project called "Rural Mining". The research group was able to dissect the material waste that would remain after certain parts of a building were deconstructed.
Sustainable and Smart Communities:
We are just at the beginning – start "re-thinking" and "re-acting"!
Lutz Becker is Program Director of the “Master in Sustainable Marketing & Leadership” and Head of the Business School at Hochschule Fresenius in Cologne/Germany, which he joined in 2014.
Natalie Eßig is a practicing architect and has worked as a professor for architecture and building climatology at HM Hochschule München University of Applied Sciences since 2013. Additionally, she serves as an auditor for the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) and as an energy advisor.
Thorsten Schneiders is Professor for Energy Storage, Integrated Energy Systems and Smart Technologies at TH Köln - University of Applied Sciences, as well as the Chair of the Virtual Institute Smart Energy.
Christopher Iu joined New Jersey Transit (NJ TRANSIT) in 2018 and was appointed Acting Chief Compliance Officer in 2019.
We would like to thank the German Center for Research and innovation New York (DWIH New York) for hosting the live web-talk, and giving UAS7 and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences the opportunity to reach such an engaged audience. Further, we would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Wunderbar Together initiative that highlights the importance of transatlantic exchange between Germany and the U.S. Many thanks to all partners and speakers for their participation and involvement in the workshop. Special thanks to the German Consulate General New York, for their support with such valuable projects.