For those of us with the freedom – physical or economic – to choose where to live, how do we make that choice?
Many follow work opportunities into the city, but when putting down roots to raise children, caring for elderly relatives, or integrating into a community, we consider many things like safety, the availability and quality of education, healthcare and infrastructure, and the local culture and environment. These are all indicators used to assess the ‘liveability’ of 140 cities in the EIU’s annual Global Liveability Report.
But many of us will also ask ‘how green is my city?’. Why? Because green cities are more pleasant places to live. The World Cities Summit opening this week in Singapore, a city renowned for its visionary approach to green urban planning, will explore this, looking at how sustainability enhances liveability, safety and wellbeing for residents.
In the World Cup of green cities, some stand out as champions. It is no coincidence that those that consistently rank highly on liveability – like Melbourne, Vancouver, Vienna and Singapore – are known as leaders in sustainable development. Others are active in the C40 network of megacities committed to addressing climate change while also increasing the health, wellbeing and economic opportunities of urban citizens.
Women, so often in the front lines of climate change impact, are playing a leading role in finding urban solutions. C40 is led by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, while Singapore’s transformation into a smart, lush and liveable city has largely been driven by the extraordinary vision of architect and urban planner Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, the first woman to lead Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and the current CEO of the Housing and Development Board. Not only will Dr. Hean be speaking at the Summit, but the WorldGBC will also welcome trailblazing architect Lisa Bate, a global ambassador for sustainable design, as our new Chair.
But what is a green city, really? It is not only low (or zero) carbon and resource-efficient, it is also regenerative and integrates nature into the city environment, from biodiversity to urban farming. And it does this across all the functions of a modern urban center – from utilities to transport, and from the buildings people live in to the services they use. A green city is result of a thriving economy, community and environment.
Its most common features are also those that enhance liveability. For example, more green cover on the ground, rooftops and facades (such as in Vienna, where half the metropolitan area is green space), provides cooling and cuts glare, reducing the urban heat island effect and creating a more comfortable climate and genial environment for city-dwellers.
Similarly, a well-designed public transport network is not just good for getting city-dwellers between work and home in a smoothly functioning economy, it also reduces carbon emissions and improves air quality. Further, green cities enhance health and wellbeing, as illustrated by any city designed for walking and cycling. They are literally greener with more trees, plants and open spaces for physical activity and access to nature, all proven to benefit mental health. Indeed, many green building rating systems administered by our GBCs require any greenery lost during development to be replaced. Singapore, for example, has incentive programs that drive this in high-rise gardens, such as the iconic Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering Street, addressing the challenges of a dense population by greening itself upwards.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Singapore, ranked 35th on liveability, and is one of the greenest in Asia. Strong public policy, sustainable planning and innovative green building design have also created affordable housing, resulting in 90% of its people owning their own homes.
Cities like Melbourne are also connecting the dots. Placed top in the EIU’s liveability index for the past seven years for its low crime, rich culture and good infrastructure, it also provides greenery programs and targets for its own carbon reduction (4.5% a year), thereby contributing to the Paris Agreement goals.
Vancouver, currently in third place in liveability, wants to be the world’s ‘greenest city’. To do so, its Action Plan sets a raft of ambitious targets, from cleaner air and water, to zero waste and improved access to nature. The city has also set a policy for all new buildings from 2020 onwards to be carbon neutral, a strong contribution to WorldGBC’s global Advancing Net Zero campaign.
It is clear that cities that are green and smart are becoming the most liveable and resilient. It is now time, therefore, for the liveability indices to include more sustainability measures, as few would disagree that a green city makes for a happier and healthier place to live.
About the Authors:
Terri Wills is CEO of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), a network of Green Building Councils in over 70 countries. WorldGBC’s mission is to create green buildings for everyone, everywhere, enabling people and planet to thrive today and tomorrow. In March 2017, Terri was named as one of 10 women leading the global push towards climate action, gender equality and social justice for all by Eco-Business. Terri is based in London, UK.
Joelle Chen is the Regional Head of WorldGBC’s Asia Pacific Network of member Green Building Councils in 15 countries. She focuses on strengthening the green building business case for investors, advocating for healthier buildings that support wellbeing and productivity and sharing best practices through the WorldGBC Asia Pacific Leadership in Green Building Awards, among other initiatives. Joelle is based in Singapore.