The Future of Living: Sustainable Cities

When it comes to sustainability, cities play an important role. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities with this trend steadily increasing. While the geographical area only occupies three percent of the earth, 60 to 80 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions can be attributed to cities (UNDP). Therefore, all aspects of building and managing urban spaces must be transformed: from the personal, with a focus on affordable and safe housing and job opportunities, to the larger scale communities and economies. Sustainability should always be the guiding principle, paired with inclusivity, which would lead to investments prioritizing these values, ranging from urban planning to public transport.

Building cities does not need to require a high level of energy and resources but should reinforce a positive effect on climate change, energy efficiency and smart technology. Sustainable cities thrive to reduce the carbon footprint of each resident in comparison to conventional living and attach great importance to a harmonious living environment, free from pollutants, noise and cars to foster a community that values the culture of sustainability. Whether it is solar energy, energetic autonomy, water recycling, electronic vehicles or environmentally friendly building materials and methods – the list of approaches to more sustainable urban ecosystems is long.

One ambitious and future-oriented urban development example is the Danish sustainable architect group BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). Founder – and so-called starchitect – Bjarke Ingels describes architecture as a design of “ecosystems, systems of both ecology and economy” and that sustainability “has to be a design challenge”. By that, sustainable living does not need to “force people to alter their lifestyle to have a better conscience. They can live exactly the way they want, or even better because the world and the city are designed in such a way that they can actually do so.” (whitewall). Today, his projects, such as the Two World Trade Center building in New York City’s Financial District or Google’s head office in California, represent some of the most ambitiously sustainable architectonics.

© Toyota

The high-profile architect’s latest project, with the globe’s largest automobile manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corporation, exceeds even his standards: the world’s first completely self-sustaining city. Located at the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan, this controlled environment is focused on advancing all aspects of mobility in a sustainable manor. What many automakers have talked about, Toyota has realized with its Woven City, built on a 175-hectare former factory site in the city of Susono in Shizuoka, about 100 kilometers from Tokyo. It is designed to be a testing ground to advance mobility in many ways, such as autonomous cars, smart home connected technology, artificial intelligence, hydrogen-powered infrastructure and other technologies developed by the Japanese company.

© Toyota

A population of 2,000 citizens, including Toyota’s own researchers, engineers and scientists as well as retirees, families and retailers, will be living there full-time. The city features a fully connected, carbon neutral ecosystem powered by solar energy, geothermal energy, and hydrogen fuel cell technology. An autonomous delivery network is placed underground connecting directly to the buildings above to help accelerate the testing of autonomy. One of the city’s unique details is the infrastructure: a shared road split into three street types for various speeds of mobility. The main streets will be used by fast, zero-emission vehicles, smaller streets will be for decelerated passenger traffic – both on wheels and on foot, and the third type of street will be a park-style promenade, exclusively for pedestrians. The buildings – a mix of housing, retail and business – will be made of carbon neutral wood timber, combining robotic production methods with traditional Japanese wood joinery. Photovoltaic systems on the roofs use solar power in addition to generating electricity from hydrogen fuel cells. New technology, such as in-home robotics, assists the residents with daily living like automatic grocery deliveries, laundry pick-ups or trash disposal. Sensor-based artificial intelligence systems will monitor the residents’ health and take care of basic needs to enhance daily life. Indoor gardens in offices, as well as public areas like neighborhood parks, a large central park for recreation and a central plaza create an infrastructure that is connected, digital and sustainable.

© Toyota

As a model of a smart and futuristic city, the Woven City is intended to act as a role model. It also serves as a research project to see how a modern city can be built from scratch and can be applied around the world. It aims to bring people and communities together in a safer, cleaner, more fun city with the positive side effect of cutting down carbon dioxide emissions and using internet technology in practically every aspect of daily life. Construction of the Woven City will start this year.

by Marie Klimczak

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