Skip to main content

Is the Future of Cities green? 

Professor Steffen Lehmann on CIRIA’s  forthcoming debate focused on the growing pressures on our cities, public spaces and infrastructural systems. 

The future of our cities and their complex supporting systems will be the topic at the Construction Industry Research and Information Association's (CIRIA) annual debate, on Thursday 22 June 2017 at the Royal Society in London. 

The 2017 debate on cities, entitled “Sustainable Cities - Is there a future? Is it green?" will examine how best to plan for and manage a resilient urban future, and how we can do this in a sustainable and equitable way. 

Engineers, planners, architects and other built environment professionals operating in this complex and challenging context are constantly working to adapt urban environments to changing social conditions, shifting demographics, emerging environmental conflicts and ageing infrastructure assets, while at the same time finding innovative solutions to better design, build and manage cities.

At the debate I will discuss my statement entitled ‘Regenerated cities are Sustainable Cities’, detailing the need to regenerate and transform fossil fuel-based cities in the UK, and briefly touch upon my own research in making cities more climate-resilient and resource-efficient. 

The urban regeneration of cities for the post-fossil era has emerged as the new paradigm in urban development. Due to our obsession with economic growth, urban expansion and excessive use of finite resources, the challenges including rapid urbanisation and sprawl require us to regenerate and re-compact cities in a new forward-thinking way. 

In the discussion, I will  consider how we can realise the urban future we want and report on international next practice. Our research shows that easy access for all citizens to parks, gardens and outdoor spaces is a hallmark of resilient and sustainable cities. We are considering circular economy models for cities and ways to remove the barriers to delivering long term sustainable infrastructure projects, by providing better evidence for long-term decision making and urban governance.

Urbanisation in the UK and in Europe has become increasingly complex. However, the compact, mixed-use and walkable city model has (again) emerged as the most promising urban model in the shift towards low-carbon cities” 

On 22 June I will also explore the notions of green urbanism, which extends the concept of the resource-efficient city to include optimising all urban material and energy flows. But the urban challenges we face are far too big for one single discipline (eg. the architect, or the engineer) alone to resolve them. New partnerships for sharing of experiences and better evidence are increasingly important to ensure efficient decision making and to overcome the frequent lack of reliable urban data on cities and neighbourhoods. 

And then there is the crucial factor of Time. Time is now of the essence in counter-acting fossil-fuel induced climate change. As a civilisation, we are very late in acting. What is now required is much more accelerated action on transition pathways that help to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We have entered the Age of Cities, however, we have clearly not yet entered the Age of the Sustainable City. 

The Annual CIRIA Evening Debate
Other speakers of the 2017 debate will include Prof Peter Head CBE (Chair), Founder of the Ecological Sequestration Trust; Sally Uren, CEO of the Forum for the Future; Sarah Toy, Bristol City Council; and Malcolm Smith, Arup Fellow.  This high-profile evening debate intends to highlight the wide range of approaches possible for managing urbanised regions, and to address the complexities in developing more inclusive and sustainable urban environments and communities by embracing a new urban agenda. 

You can find out more information about CIRIA's 2017 debate here:

You may also like: 

Cities: The next chapter 
Stephen Engblom, Global Director of AECOM Cities 

What is a city? 
Malcolm Smith, Arup Fellow and global leader of masterplanning and urban design