Countdown to COP26 | Neighborhood action by civil engineers is vital to achieving net zero
The need for change is increasingly in the spotlight with today five weeks before the start of COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November, and civil engineers have a key role to play.
Local strategies, policies and projects that provide opportunities for the direct participation of communities in addressing climate change are needed, as communities around the world increasingly witness the impact of heat waves or extreme floods.
Although often overlooked in favor of ambitious or hard-to-reach international or national targets, there are great opportunities for further action at the neighborhood level to accelerate emission reductions. This – of course – has to happen alongside broader systemic change, but local projects can serve as a test bed for innovation; accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and provide residents with better places to live.
Civil engineers, who often support these neighborhood projects, can use them to build momentum in support of city-wide emission reduction targets and attract funding and investment for larger-scale projects. .
Arup, in partnership with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, has created a new guide highlighting the importance of neighborhood action in the fight against the climate crisis. We hope this unique framework and approach will help civil engineers, as well as city authorities, developers and communities. The framework can be applied in new and existing neighborhoods globally.
The Green and prosperous neighborhoods guide presents 10 key approaches to helping neighborhoods thrive and aligns closely with the concept of the 15-minute city – a planning principle that encourages essential amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of people’s homes, improving accessibility and inclusion – which are central objectives of the guide.
The approaches described aim to focus on the end user – residents, workers and visitors – and build on best practices and successful projects in cities around the world. We hope that the examples referenced in the guide will help inspire city planners, policy makers, civil engineers, developers and communities around the world.
First, the industry must create and celebrate adaptable spaces that can be used by all residents, providing a compact neighborhood. For example, the Haringey Council in London used the previously vacant Blue House Yard site to provide affordable workspaces for small businesses, as well as public spaces. Often referred to as âpending use,â a term used to describe a diverse range of temporary uses on empty land, this project used existing infrastructure to support community networks and create jobs.
We must also promote streets centered on people and mobility by favoring active travel over private cars. The Superblocks program in Barcelona, ââfor example, uses temporary street furniture and painted road markings to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists and to introduce mobile tree planters that green the streets and provide shade. In the first Superblock, the areas occupied by cars decreased by 48% and the green zone increased by 91%, while the economic activity in the area at street level increased.
It is also essential that as an industry we promote clean construction by reallocating and renovating infrastructure to avoid demolition and use low carbon materials. For example, the Collective for the Climate Project in the district of La Porte de Montreuil in Paris aims to reduce operational and intrinsic emissions by 85% and requires that all buildings be adaptable or reversible.
Investing in neighborhood-wide energy infrastructure will help generate, store and share clean energy for buildings in the neighborhood and beyond. For example, Innesto in Milan will be the first zero-carbon âSocial Housingâ district in Italy, with the development of an innovative fourth-generation district heating system, powered by renewable sources (including a waste recovery system). heat from urban wastewater) and the design of near-zero energy buildings.
Finally, the use of green and nature-based solutions will support biodiversity, improve air quality and promote physical and mental well-being. Les Corredores Verdes, for example, an interconnected network of green spaces in Medellin, Colombia, reduced the impact of urban heat, planted more than 8,800 trees and enabled 75 citizens from disadvantaged backgrounds to access a training to become urban gardeners.
As built environment professionals, we have a responsibility to understand the impact of our cities’ emissions and to take action to achieve the net zero goals. However, we also have a responsibility to carry it out in a way that creates positive change for citizens and to include them at the heart of the decision-making process.
- Ben Smith is Director of Energy and Climate Change Consulting at Arup
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