31st October was marked in 2014 by the U.N as World Cities Day. This was done so to create awareness about global urban expansion and the aggressive need to challenge uninhibited growth. Climate change is attributed to colossal amounts of fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, agriculture, meat farming and much more. We forget, however, the primary reason these issues take place is due to the ceaseless growth of our urban landscape.

Cities already account for around 70 percent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Yet cities only cover 4 % of the world’s land mass. Ecosystems have often proved resilient to human damage, they are capable of healing itself, but human actions no longer harm only a small fragment of a forest or pollute only the air around big cities.

Population growth is not stymying any demands further being made on these spaces. We still need more room, and so forests will continue to be struck out of our natural environment. We will need more energy, food, sanitation and more infrastructures to cater to incessant city growth. 54% of the world’s population currently resides within urban cities, and will continue to expand to approximately 66% by 2050. To put this into perspective, the world population will be nigh on 9 billion by 2050 as projected by UN statistics. Not only is this putting a strain on cities themselves, but it is making those within it all the more vulnerable.

As cities continuously develop through business as usual, more people move to economic hubs, more demands are made on the environment, leading to greater global warming, which conversely affects these cities. Macabre storms such as the recent Harvey, Irma and Ophelia are a painful reality that our cities are anything but resilient.

Beijing renewed its alert on smog in October (2016) when it hit a high of 300 on the Air Quality Index (AQI). Lahore too has fallen prey to this hazardous occurrence as the whole city had virtually come to a standstill early last year. Unfortunately, it takes a hazardous event to happen for the civil society to realise that this is something that calls for attention. The need to make ourselves more resilient and sustainable has never been more paramount.

In the age of information and technology, there are ways to direct and adapt cities to benefit humans, their way of life and the natural world.

Intelligently designing our cities could reduce chances of damage and the strain on the economy to rebuild it every time a crisis happens. Sustainable solutions are the next big step. The United Nations has built 17 mutually agreed global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Making a city more resilient, will make it more resilient to disasters such associated with climate change that will then further protect vulnerable communities. When one change leads to another, it is called the ‘multiplier effect’. This is the same way change in natural ecology works, and cities are nothing short of an ecosystem. Ecologically driven change can enhance economic opportunity, make more productive workplaces, and help revive neglected communities.

Buildings must be made more efficient. The buildings that we reside in, collectively contribute to 45% of greenhouse gas emissions merely through cooling, heating and powering.

Renewable energy investments will pay back quicker if neighbourhood layouts and urban networks are coordinated with sustainable strategies. A large-shared geothermal energy system for heating and cooling buildings within one network will help save everyone costs, similarly if the same is done with solar energy panels. Through this energy savings could reach 30 percent or more. Net energy will always be produced and could be sold to other grids. This means, poorer segments of society could have electricity cheaply catered to them too. Germany is testament to the benefits of renewable energy when it paid its citizens to use electricity.

Green roofs have become exceedingly trendy, and have been known to benefit the buildings where they have been installed. Studies have indicated that buildings with green roofs are substantially cooler than neighbouring buildings that do not have them. This means a marked decrease in use of cooling or ventilation for those buildings. In addition, the ecological importance of green roofs is becoming very valuable. Firstly, it would aid the transpiration process, so that we have timely rainfalls. Secondly, they provide homes and shelter to our pollinators (birds and bees) who are slowly losing their habitats. Ensuring the health, safety and reproduction of our pollinators ensures that we are still provided with their eco-system services; such as to stabilise forest growth. Restabilising forests means keeping global warming in check, and hence reducing risks of natural disasters. Lastly, more green will ensure better air quality for all residents.

China is slowly working its way to become a world leader in developing state of the art, fast and efficient electric trains and buses. These will carry its working population to their jobs and back with zero emissions. Zero carbon emissions spells better health for city dwellers, meaning less strain on the health system and less burden on city officials and tax payers. Al-Ahsa, a city in Saudi Arabia, has been named the world’s most ‘creative city’ by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, for creating a self-sustaining community. The state of Oregon has set new precedents by ensuring the preservation of farmland, cities and forests alike by determining resolute borders by law. In the United Kingdom, any development must seek planning permission; i.e there is no ‘right’ to develop.

Miraculously, all of this will do no harm to the environment, benefit human health and safety and save humanity billions of dollars. These are only a few examples, yet the benefits are far reaching. Creative cities mean more than simply catering to climate change, we can rethink cities to think of ways to preserve natural and historical heritage, culture and art.

All this can be achieved through the collective work of the community. As the famous American Jurist Oliver Wendell J.r once wrote;

‘The chief worth of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex; that it calls for great and combined intellectual efforts, instead of simple, uncoordinated ones, in order that the crowd may be fed and clothed, and housed and moved from place to place. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life.’