As the number of people in our world continues to grow, the potential for a variety of challenges and crises grows right along with it, and by 2050, we’ll be presented with a very complicated equation. In particular, densely packed environments, such as megacities and informal housing, will be confronted with a variety of challenges that arise from a warming climate as well as rapid urban expansion.
What answers will these settlements find in the future? And what future answers can we start looking for today?
Over the last four or five years, “resilience thinking” has started to shape how urban planners think about growing the cities of tomorrow. It's a broad-spectrum agenda that seeks to infuse cities with greater responsiveness to extreme events and ultimately, improve the lives of the next generation of urban dwellers.
So, what does it take to build more resilient cities? At Covestro we believe innovative materials have the power to provide a brighter future for tomorrow’s urban ecosystems.
According to the UN, over the next few decades, 95% of global urban expansion will take place in the developing world. Today, over 883 million people already live in informal settlements, and most of these settlements are found in East and Southeast Asia. These kinds of low-income – or rather no-income – households are more frequently and more severely affected by natural disasters.
Investing in and upgrading impoverished areas is shown to reduce community risks like organized crime, pollution, diseases, hygiene problems, and more. In the long term, ignoring slums will lead to higher costs for city administrations and more affluent urban inhabitants. Therefore, future cities should offer paths to formalize unofficial living, but to achieve this goal, cities have to be looked at as holistic ecosystems. By creating solutions in an integrated, forward-looking manner, urban settlements can improve their development trajectory and the wellbeing of their citizens.
To save lives, prevent losses, and strengthen the resilience of cities and settlements, it is essential for cities to invest in disaster risk reduction and to meet the global challenge of planning and providing affordable housing quickly and sustainably.
Together with industry partners and government agencies, Covestro has developed affordable housing made from polycarbonates. By reducing costs and expediting installation, this affordable housing allows communities to build resilience after shocks like earthquakes or floods. Additionally, these homes provide solutions for economically underdeveloped regions as well as places where housing or land is scarce or expensive, such as in densely populated areas or cities with a high influx of refugees.
Improving the availability of homes improves urban resilience and also helps to achieve the UN's sustainability goals.
As densely populated urban areas expand, so do the food resource needs of the population living there. Already, 20% of the world's undernourished people live in cities, and urban expansion is expected to further increase resource scarcity.
This agriculture challenge demands urgent and adequate response from city and national authorities as well as international organizations. To address food insecurity, many organizations are beginning to turn towards urban farming initiatives. For example, the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), which brings together a number of international organizations in order to develop sustainable strategies for city-level adaptation to climate change, has already included urban and peri-urban agriculture as an important initiative to build resilient cities.
There are several measures to confront the issue of self-contained food supply, ranging from preventing construction in selected green areas like wetlands or steep slopes to preferential food procurement from family and community farms located within the city.
Additionally, fruits and vegetables could even be cultivated in open green spaces, such as public parks and gardens. Vertical gardening is an approach that has been discussed for some years now – an application area where durable materials like polycarbonate could be used efficiently.
Polycarbonate can also be used to create solar dryers that increase the shelf life of food. Today, 550 solar dryers made from polycarbonate have already been installed, and as a result, farmers can decrease food waste, secure their income, and better feed their communities.
Ultimately, urban farms can help bring healthy options to urban food deserts, reduce the environmental impact of feeding the world, and create resilient cities. And that seems like reason enough to continue the expansion of urban farming initiatives.