FAST-TRACK EFFICIENT APPROACHES TO ACHIEVE SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN CITIES
CASE STUDY: TORONTO
Pioneer cities such as most smart and resilient cities have developed plans to decrease their environmental impacts and, therefore, slow down the process of climate change and simultaneously prepare for the climate change by adaptation and mitigation. A good example is Toronto. Toronto has a climate action strategy that was approved by the City Council in 2017, and it aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 30% by 2020, about 65% by 2030, and ultimately 80% by 2050 (City of Toronto, 2019a). That means considerable changes should be introduced in the ways construction, transportation, and energy industries and waste management systems work. The mayor of Toronto, John Tory joined the C40Cities and committed to decrease Toronto’s GHG emissions by taking actions toward preparing it for the climate risks, prioritizing the shocks and stresses based on the severity of them, and monitoring the carbon dioxide emissions by source (C40CITIES, 2019).
Toronto is one of the three Canadian cities that have taken the action to join the global network of “100 Resilient Cities” and was assigned a chief resilience officer to lead its resilience strategy against the main shocks of rainfall flooding, blizzards, and heat waves and main stresses of economic inequality, energy insecurity and power outage, and lack of affordable housing (100 Resilient Cities, 2019a, 2019b). The Chief Resilient Officer established a ResilientTO section to prepare people, communities, and businesses in Toronto to be resilient by development and implementation of the first Toronto Resilience Strategy (City of Toronto, 2019b). Involving citizens and asking them to share their personal stories of resilience, mapping the type of stresses and shocks they have experienced across Toronto, and completing surveys to get more information
CContinued) and engage inhabitants of Toronto are the steps that ResilientTO program have taken to ensure citizens are informed. Unfortunately, Rockefeller center, who funded the 100 Resilient Cities, announced that he would no longer fund this initiative as they could not achieve their goals by their timeline (Pitt, 2019). An unofficial source from the City of Toronto mentioned the city has a plan to continue the role.
Toronto commenced upgrading its green infrastructure by adaptive reuse of old infrastructure (the Beltline Trail and West Toronto Rail path) and introducing an initiative called “Tree For Me,” which provides free native plants to citizens to plant them in their back yards to increase its green canopy and decrease its carbon footprint (Toronto Park and Trees Foundation, 2019).
Live Green Toronto under the Department of Water and Environment of the City of Toronto has a variety of initiatives and incentives to promote sustainable development, which span from the Home Energy Load Program (HELP) to Smart Commute, Pollinator protection, Eco-roof, green local businesses, and many more. This department has trained more than 14,000 volunteers that actively inform and educate the public on waste management, water management, and everything to do with the built environment in the city of Toronto.
Compact Cities and Land-Use Configuration
“Compact Cities” prevent urban sprawl by employing high-density developments; high-density development is not the same as vertical growth (Foster, 2015). Compact Cities are an optimal urban form for a sustainable city and can reduce energy wastes, conserve energy, and reduce the expansion costs as building new' infrastructure (roads, pipes, electric grid, sewers, broadband, etc.) and expanding horizontally is quite costly. Additionally, studies showed that the amount of carbon that is stored in one unit of urban area depends on its form whether it is compact or sprawled (Churkina, 2016). To prevent urban sprawl means to minimize the prevalence of inequity and single-family homes in the suburbs and the use of cars to commute to a city center. In British sustainable cities such as Bristol, there are clear city boundaries, which are often protected by “green belts” and “park and ride” stations right on the edge of the city; people have to park their cars in those stations and commute to a city by public transport modes.
Applying a mixed land-use approach in a city’s masterplan has been a remedy to bring comfort to citizens. In addition, size of the street blocks has a direct impact on peoples’ choices of transport mode. Bigger block size discourages people to w'alk, while denser and smaller blocks bring people to the streets to walk or ride a bike; small European towms such as Venice, Lisbon, Florence, and Prague are good examples of walkable cities because people can walk everywhere and have access to all amenities without needing to use their cars. In most “organic forms of growth” in cities, commercial and service uses were assigned to the street level and residential and office uses were placed on top of these spaces. In modern and new cities w'ith “geometrical urban patterns” or “grid systems,” often big blocks and lack of mixed- use properties force people to use their cars to travel to other parts of a city, such as a plaza the case for most US and Canadian cities, only to buy their basic groceries, which is clearly a nonsustainable approach in urban design.
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and Walkable Neighborhoods
Urban studies have shown w hen the density increases, people tend to use public transport or nonmotorized transport (NMT) almost by 20% (World Bank Sustainability Blog, n.d.). That has been a good sign to develop an approach called TOD, which is about brining compact and mixed-use developments around public transit facilities. This approach was first applied in China by the World Bank to create “Livable Cities” and has found some followers like Jennifer Keesmaat w'ho suggested to bring affordable housing on and around metro stations across Toronto. One clear benefit of TOD is the opportunity it provides to design walkable neighborhoods and car-free areas, w'hich leads to accessible neighborhoods and ultimately less energy consumption and less air and noise pollution. Many studies such as Heath et al. (2006) have shown the impacts of land use and urban design on physical activities and health. Walkable neighborhood designs and access to basic amenities such as grocery stores, library, schools, and health clinics could increase walking and, therefore, decrease obesity in young children and adults. Also transport studies illustrate the most sustainable forms of mobility are walking and biking; this means planning and designing proper infrastructure for these modes, such as assigning bike paths and scooter lanes, is required so high-speed traffic and safe movements can naturally flow across the city and region. On a larger scale, urban scale, advancing high efficiency and clean public transport modes increases the NMT plus reduces noise and air pollution as well as incidents wnth vehicles in cities.
Patrick Geddes (1915) who was initially a biologist interested in town planning was the first person who looked at a city as a living organism containing human and nonhumans and the built environment. He combined urban planning wnth ecology and invented regional planning, which later led to new fields such as ecological urbanism and landscape urbanism. The relationship between natural resources, including the land and its biodiversity as a context for cities to grow, and the land-use patterns with the population are still valid. The more naturally resourceful a city, the more population it accommodates (Parris et al., 2018). Unfortunately, urbanization and land-use changes have caused extinction among many species, which reversely impacts the stability of the ecosystem in the area and beyond and in the long term. To overcome these problems, Kristen Parris et al. (2018) defined seven ecological principles, or as they call it seven lamps of planning, to protect biodiversity in cities, which are: identifying the protection areas, connecting habitats to allow movements of different species, building ecological elements to provide habitats, sustaining ecosystems (energy cycling, nutrient, and water), and carefully thinking and designing urban form and urban infrastructure to avoid negative impacts on the wildlife population and biodiversity in cities while creating new' ecosystems to allow' new species develop their own habitats. The built environment base for these lamps are heritage, mobility, “heterophilia,” integrated water management, neighborhood, safety and well-being of inhabitants, and finally, urban renewal. This brings us to the green infrastructure in pioneer sustainable cities.
Green Infrastructure and Urban Space Regeneration
Numerous studies have proved that green infrastructures, which are often natural and self-sustained, are the only way for cities to become resilient and to survive the impacts of climate change (McPhearson et al., 2015; Tillie and van der Heijden, 2016). Lakes, rivers, mangroves, woods and urban forests, parks and urban green spaces, and the newly emerged phenomena of “freeway caps” or “freeway cap parks” are the most common forms of green infrastructure. They act as lungs for cities to breathe in all sorts of emissions and breath out oxygen, which is essentially what all living creatures need. They are also effective in decreasing the urban heat islands (UHI) effect and keeping cities cool, w'hich means conserving energy. Repurposing old infrastructure such as old rail lines, car parks, or closed freeways and adding a green space to it created projects like rail-to-trail or freeway-to-Boulevard. Recently adding a green deck in the air space right above a freeway has become a new trend among megacities in Europe and the United States (e.g., Promenade Plantee in Paris, Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, and High Line in New York) (Houston and Zuniga, 2019). These freeway cap parks can reduce the pollution (air and airborne, storm water, noise, etc.), create a micro-climate, mask the high-speed traffic below, provide habitats for animals, and a green corridor to help biodiversity of the area plus reintegrate communities that were originally divided by that freeway.
Ensuring a city’s environment and its urban ecosystem is protected and well- conserved can be achieved by different initiatives, most notably, incorporating green industries and decarbonizing urbanization, low-carbon technologies to generate power and to operate a city’s transport system, maintaining and protecting biodiversity, smart solid waste management, and planning for a sustainable urban future (GPSC, 2018). Certainly, green infrastructure solutions differ from region to region based on their climate, typography, vegetation, and other environmental characteristics.
Sustainable Energy: The Transition
Decarbonizing the power generation and transition from fossil fuels to renewables, which decreases the total amount of power generated, have been one of the main initiatives that governments have been working on. De-carbonization of electric grid has been the force for the change of heating systems to electric based ones in buildings in recent years (O’Dwyer et al., 2019), and although that may seem sustainable, it is not self-sustaining and reliable. With the push toward electric vehicles, which increases the pressure on the electric grid, a more efficient and intelligent energy management system is required to generate power from multiple and different sources.
The European Union (EU) has provided an economic and political base to invest on clean energy and efficient energy consumption but that is not easily achievable. For instance, despite changing political control in London (UK), clean energy targets (25% by 2025 and 50% by 2050) as part of the “Green Growth” has stayed the same; they must be provided from local low-carbon sources (Webb et ah, 2016). The EU’s “zero-energy buildings” (ZEB) concept envisioned all new buildings should be nearly zero energy by December 2020; although this has not happened by 2019, a new concept of “nearly zero-energy building (NZEBs)” has been commonly used instead to decrease the gap and make the “European Smart Cities and Communities Initiative” achievable (O’Dwyer et ah, 2019). Studies have shown heating and cooling buildings is one of the three main reasons for excessive energy consumption. Globally, about 40% of the energy is consumed by buildings (De Rubeis et ah, 2018). In Canada, in 2016, in the residential section, most of the consumed energy belonged to space heating (62%), space cooling (2%), water heating (20%), and lighting (4%) (Natural Resources Canada, 2016, p. 99). That decreased only by 1% in space cooling and 1% in water heating in 2017 (Natural Resources Canada, 2017, p. 117), and the rest remained the same. Overall 86% of the energy consumed for heating could be conserved to some degree depending on the season and the proper design of buildings. In some cases, behavioral patterns rule the energy consumption. A tangible instance are the rental apartments in older buildings in Ontario, which are almost always too warm, and because residents cannot decrease the indoor temperature, they open their windows to cool them down, which wastes lots of energy. Having residents from different parts of the world does not help too because their comfort temperatures are different but due to the old heating systems all must adapt with the same often high thermal comfort temperature. While the standard comfort temperature globally is between 18°C and 23°C, in the United Kingdom, the minimum starts at 13°C (HSE, 2018). I vividly recall that the heating system in our offices were off till the indoor temperature dropped under 13°C; some international colleagues brought a hidden electric heater to warm up their feet and hands to be able to work. The same was the case for residential spaces, particularly in the private sector where most landlords would not turn on the heating often because fuel was expensive (they thought they saved on utility bills and conserved energy but were not aware their tenants found other solutions to keep them warm such as hidden electric heaters or thermal blankets, etc.).
Recent innovations in the field of sustainable energy generation in remote areas, such as Africa, which do not have access to electric grids, seem to be very efficient for the rest of the world as well. These innovations mainly rely on mechanical operations and the laws of physics to generate power and often do not have negative environmental impacts. For instance, small portable wind turbines or the turbine that can be placed in a stream to generate electricity or the gravity light, which provides light by pulling a string to bring a weight up. The gravity light idea was later bought from the African inventor, adopted by a British company, and many products, including a USB system to charge phones and bring light using the same technology, have been developed. A new material called “snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG” was recently tested by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, which could generate electricity from snowfall and could coat solar panels to generate electricity, even in winter.
Urban Water Management
Perhaps sustainable urban water management is the most important infrastructure that should be carefully studied, designed, and implemented for cities, especially when we remind ourselves only 3% of the world’s water is drinkable. It includes the freshwater supply, rainwater collection, environmental protection, proper sewer systems, catchments, and landscape design to prevent the risk of flooding in cities. Mangroves and lakes (both natural and artificial) can retain excess surface water in case of severe rains and are considered green infrastructure. According to UN Environment (2017), these “blue forests” are declining fast, because they have a large carbon sink capacity. Unfortunately, mangroves as a forgotten green infrastructure are diminishing in most cities while they could play such important roles for the survival of cities by capturing carbon dioxide and GHG emission as well as flood prevention, filtering runoffs, and providing micro ecosystems as habitats in urban areas. Singapore and Berlin as internationally known cities for their water management systems have used green infrastructure on a large scale to collect reclaimed and storm water, treat it and reuse it for water supply. Tianjin eco-city and Melbourne have facilitated irrigation of public green spaces with nonconventional water, so they could conserve potable water for people’s consumption (Liu and Jensen, 2018). It is strange and perhaps unwise that humans do not pay attention to the natural solutions that have proved efficient for centuries and instead try dangerous solutions such as “geoengineering” with known negative and long-term environmental impacts on nature and wildlife just to respond to a short-term problem (Dunne, 2018).