Making Cities Bigger and Better

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Aerial view of Albaicin , Granada City Spain
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, the United Nations Human Settlements Program forecasts. Meanwhile cities themselves are growing, with the number of megacities—those with populations greater than 10 million—expected to hit 41 by 2030, up from 28 today and just 10 in 1990.

The challenge is how to make sprawling, dense cities livable, sustainable and efficient for residents. But priorities for livability aren’t easy to define.

“If you have an older population, then things they see as priorities may be different than in a city with a huge number of young people,” says Stephen Hammer, manager of climate policy for the World Bank Group in Washington, DC. “If you have mass migration of people from the countryside, then the creation of economic opportunities and housing services may be at top of the list. For a period of time, that will be the priority, and as people begin to settle in, ideas will shift about what makes it a desirable place. It may be cleaner air, clean water, access to energy services or access to employment.”

Urban planners do their best to ensure services and amenities like transportation, sanitation, green spaces and more. However, many megacities are growing faster than city services, as informal housing springs up to accommodate the flood of new arrivals.

“People will go to great trouble to get to cities, because there are opportunities there in a way there never were in the countryside,” says Robert Bruegmann, professor emeritus of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book “Sprawl: A Compact History.”

For poor families, that might require living in a slum. However, “there is self-organization to these things,” he says of slums. “You have to be able to at least wheel a cart through to all the residences. You can’t have a living space that’s inaccessible. Without any formal government, mechanisms to maintain access emerge all over the world.”

Residential buildingWhat hasn’t worked is tearing down the slums to build high-rise housing. “There is not enough public money to house everybody,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The number of units built rarely equals the number torn down. The current accepted wisdom is ‘we’re going to have to let people do self-build housing.’”

Informal “does not equal slum,” cautions Khaled El-Araby, professor of transportation planning and traffic engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo. The Egyptian capital ranks at No. 17 among megacities, according to Demographia, with an estimated population of 15.6 million. The informal areas are simply “built outside formal planning and building regulations of the government,” he says. “In a sense, this is not always bad. When you have a dense, compact city such as Cairo, trips between work and home usually are relatively short. They have contained economic activities there, like workshops and commerce. From an urban-planning perspective, they are OK, but we want higher building standards and a better level of access to basic services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation.”

The urban core of Cairo is very dense, with an estimated 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The government has been building new planned cities to accommodate population growth, including a planned new capital city. However, less than 10% of Cairo’s population currently lives in the new cities, Dr. El-Araby notes.

While the planned cities extend mostly east and west of Cairo into the desert, apart from social/economic housing projects supported by the government, Cairo is experiencing a chronic shortage of affordable housing. So, many people opt to move to informal settlements around the urban core of the city, along the Nile—mostly on prime agricultural land, Dr. El-Araby says.

street top view“We cannot relocate around 60% of Cairo’s population. We have to make an assessment of the informal areas that are unsafe and cannot access basic services and relocate those people to viable, serviced areas. For others, we just have to address problems like controlling expansions and residential densities and improving access to services like transportation,” he says.

Future technology might solve some of megacities’ problems. “If we can kick the carbon-fuel habit, then a key part of the argument for public transportation goes out the window,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The issue should never be which is the best settlement pattern.

It should be how do people want to live, and then how to make that possible without doing damage to everyone else and to the environment.”

Developing countries may be able to leapfrog to new technology that makes some current problems moot. Just as one no longer needs a landline to telephone, “we may move to more decentralized energy systems, like solar panels on roof tops,” without a need to run electrical lines everywhere, Dr. Hammer says.

Technology also is aiding urban planners. Analysis of data from sensors and city systems gives decision-makers a better understanding of real use and needs and help them manage and optimize services. Modeling technology can simulate “what if” scenarios.

The World Bank developed a tool called CURB, which uses local data to provide tailored analysis that tells city officials how their decisions may affect greenhouse-gas emissions. Such applications and tools, he says, can help cities “understand which interventions can deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Rebuilt to Last

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

Nearly 42 million tons of electric and electronic equipment, 5.9 kilograms per person, were thrown away world-wide last year. But several initiatives now aim to reduce that waste by helping people fix their appliances and devices.

People throw away lots of items that aren’t garbage yet, but simply need to be repaired. The problem is people don’t know how to do that anymore,” says Martine Postma, who launched the first Repair Café, in Amsterdam in 2009.

“But I noticed that in every community there are still some people who do know how to do it. In many cases they are older or retired or have lost their jobs—these people are not the center of attention in our society, but they do have skills.”

The Repair Café Foundation currently has more than 700 local organizers in 18 countries running their own Repair Cafés where people can bring broken appliances and be shown how to fix them by volunteer experts, for free.

“People learn something about repair,” Ms. Postma says. “They see how to open their item, what it does. Often it turns out items aren’t very broken. It’s just a wire or a screw that came loose, or maybe it needs to be cleaned or have the dust blown away. Then people see that repair is a real alternative to throwing away or buying new. Also, it’s fun.”

Small items, such as fans, cameras, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers, toasters, microwaves or electronic toys comprise the biggest category of e-waste, totaling 12.8 million tons, according to the U.N. And the amount of e-waste is growing by 4% to 5% a year.

The European Commission has set minimum targets to recover 85% of appliances, equipment and devices from landfill waste flows, and to prepare 80% for re-use or recycling.

iStock_000028806034_SmallHowever, it isn’t always easy to fix broken objects. Besides lacking know-how, people seldom have the appropriate tools. In some communities, tool libraries lend out an array of equipment, while at Repair Cafés, the repair gurus usually bring their own. “Often, fixing things is their biggest hobby, and they have the right tools,” Ms. Postma says.

They have their work cut out. “Many products have been designed to last only a few years and then be replaced with something new,” she says. “If that’s your idea, then you don’t need to design a product in such a way that it can be opened easily. Or use screws that people have the right screwdriver for. Or share information, with a manual.”

Kyle Wiens searched in vain for a manual after he broke his laptop. “I tried to take it apart, but it was hard to get open,” he says. “I managed to get the computer apart and put it back together, but it wasn’t quite right. I knew that if I had had some insight as to how it was put together, I would have been able to repair it.”

The experience led Mr. Wiens and Luke Soules, in 2003, to co-found iFixit, which writes manuals for products that lack such information. The iFixit staff disassembles products to reverse-engineer repair instructions. They also get help from the repair community, with members posting photographs and explanations to the wiki-based site, to “teach each other along the way,” he says.

iFixit’s advice is free, but the company sells spare parts and specialized tools. Indeed, Mr. Wiens sees parts and service, rather than planned obsolescence, as the future for manufacturers. “If you’re buying a power drill for €25 ($27.80), it’s probably not going to last very long,” he says. “The manufacturer is probably planning on selling you another one.” High-end construction tools, by contrast, are made to last and to be fixed, “because contractors are very demanding,” he notes.

We have a different relationship with cheap, replaceable objects compared with expensive items. With the former, “you’re more or less a slave to the product—you’re no longer master of the product—because you don’t know how it works or how to fix it,” Ms. Postma says. “You only know a new one is available. It is not sustainable to do this. Repair needs to get back into everyday life.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Sustainability Series blog post: Packing Things Up

By Christina
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” might sound like a horror story but, unfortunately, it is very real:  a giant collection of marine debris in the waters between North America and Japan that is primarily made up of plastic.  In addition to polluting ocean waters, this collection of bags, caps, bottles and cups is detrimental to marine life, which mistakes plastic items for food and consumes them, only to die from complications.  According to a study published in the journal Science in February 2015, 8 million tons of plastic packaging are deposited into oceans annually.

In order to help solve this problem, many companies are now turning to new biomaterials, smarter manufacturing methods and other end-of-life alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of their plastic packaging throughout its lifecycle.

A number of multi-national food and beverage brands and packaging manufacturers have launched or integrated bioplastic products into their portfolios. Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources including vegetable fats, corn starch and agricultural byproducts.  A study by European Bioplastics predicts that bioplastics production capacity will increase by 400 percent, from 1.6 million tons in 2013 to around 6.7 million tons by 2018.

Packaging companies are also using new manufacturing techniques to optimize packaging design and reduce their use of virgin materials. For example, Amcor used 3D virtual design, finite element analysis, collaborative innovation and workflow management to remove more than 12,000 tons of plastic resin from its bottles.  MWV used lightweighting techniques to remove 18 percent of the plastic from medication packets made for a superstore.

IFWE Dassault Systèmes BrandingCompanies are also taking into account how the raw materials are sourced, transported, manufactured and disposed of.  A cradle-to-cradle (C2C) approach, designed to mimic natural processes, ensures that products contain materials that can be reused or recovered at their highest possible value multiple times after their first use.

Other recent innovations have included edible containers and biodegradable coffee cups that are embedded with seeds and can be buried after use.  In the U.S. alone, coffee “to go” is a daily staple, with an estimated 6 million cups of coffee sold in shops each day—think of the possibilities!KFC image (Image credit KFC via The New York Times)

For more details on how the CPGR industry is transforming packaging, read the full COMPASS article “Responsible packaging:  Producing reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging is a key goal for many companies”.



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