The following is a guest post by Ray McNeal, Real Estate and Environment Blogger:
The number of people living in cities worldwide is expected to nearly double by the year 2050, increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to more than 6 billion. This rapid growth will surely present challenges, but it will also provide huge opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to develop more connected and efficient cities. In addition to environmental sustainability, well-planned urban areas could mean improved public health, job growth, a reduction in excess spending, and an increased economic appeal for investors.
The issue is that resources – limited land, water, electricity, and transportation – must increase dramatically in order to support population growth, putting serious additional strain on the environment. To ensure success, public sector urban planners and private sector developers are already working to get ahead of some of the challenges that come with supporting a mass migration to cities, finding ways to stretch resources and make more efficient use of limited space.
Plan Bay Area 2040 is a prime example of a forward-thinking initiative created to prepare for expected growth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area as a whole is expected to see significant growth in jobs and housing over the next 25 years, with the majority concentrated within its three central cities – San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. As part of the initiative, officials from each central city meet regularly with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to discuss progress in developing a transportation and housing plan that reduces dependence on cars and makes efficient use of land. MTC Commissioner Mark Luce considers it an historic step forward in serving future generations. Advocates of Plan Bay Area acknowledge that decisions regarding land use are ultimately local, but that the creation of a joint initiative will lead to smarter, more eco-friendly cities able to reach the common goals of each region.
The private sector is also making efforts to be more environmentally responsible in urban development. At the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 fall conference, real estate developer and Tishman Speyer President and co-CEO Rob Speyer addressed the need to look beyond the obvious solution of LEED Certification, focusing instead on how individuals make use of structures within cities. “Buildings don't exist in a vacuum, and the behavior, and the lifestyles of the people that live and work in our buildings? That's what's really going to determine the future of the environment,” said Speyer.
Tishman Speyer is the owner of Rockefeller Center in New York City, and Speyer often cites the structure as an example of a “happy building” – one that makes the best possible use of space in a crowded city. Aside from a green rooftop, it also provides the opportunity for shopping, entertainment, and office space in one central location and cuts down on the need for transportation that can drain the environment.
Multi-city transit systems and buildings designed to serve more than one purpose are two pieces to the solution in supporting rapid urbanization. Developers and urban planners are headed in the right direction, but must continue their focus on developing well-connected and efficient cities.