Cities need to be a big part of the solution

By Sue Saunders, Residents 3000

More than half the world’s population live in cities. The United Nations estimates that five billion people will be living in cities by 2030.

According to Scientific American’s special report in its July issue, cities produce 70 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and they dirty the air, use up vast quantities of water, degrade water quality and produce mountains of waste. That sounds like a real problem damaging the planet’s health and its ability to support human life.

A completely contrary outcome is, however, possible.  Times are changing.  Cities, with their concentrated populations, can be huge engines of innovation and entrepreneurism that can make incremental changes to the linear flow of resources.

We take from the environment, make things, use things, recycle a small portion and then produce waste.  What if we closed the loop?  Do what nature does.  Nothing goes to waste. Transforming costly wastes into valuable resources can make cities highly efficient and wonderful places to live. Cities can create their own cyclical ecosystem.

Cities are important.  They can play an enormous role in creating solutions for a more sustainable world.  It is happening steadily and energetically before our eyes.

Many city leaders, mayors and city councils, investors, technicians, economists and planners are responding to this real need and, surprisingly, there is a growing opportunity for city residents.

Among those making changes is our own City of Melbourne that has many projects helping to evolve the city towards the goal of complete sustainability.

This month Residents 3000 members and guests, at their regular Forum 3000 meeting, heard three speakers who are making a difference to the city’s sustainability.
The event covered three topics:

Green Your Laneway.  Thami Croeser explained the Green Your Laneway program, which is upgrading four laneways this year with trees, vertical greening, planter boxes, murals and new pedestrian areas;

Love Your Laneway. Ken Meese spoke about a co-ordinated, collaborative approach to upgrading some of the city’s toughest, dirtiest lanes.  The program includes infrastructure and maintenance improvements and has contributed to activating underutilised or misused space in the central city; and

Urban Forest Fund.  Kelly Hertzog an urban forester who works in the team that plants 3000 trees for the city each year, spoke about the new Urban Forest Fund. The fund will encourage greening in the city by offering fund-matching grants to successful applicants. This may be a new way to build a garden and/or plant trees on your property.

These are admirable, small steps towards a truly sustainable city.  There are 37,000 people currently living in the CBD.  What if each person was to plant just one tree?  That would make a difference surely!

If you go to melbourneurbanforestvisual.com.au you can see where all the trees are?  Every one is tagged.  You can even send an email to a tree!  Citizen volunteers are already helping to create a resilient, healthy and diverse urban landscape.  Every tree consumes our carbon dioxide enemy, provides welcome shade, birds and peacefulness.

There are many other things happening in the city that help move it towards sustainability.  Solar installations, Metro Tunnel means less polluting cars, electric vehicles are coming – Tesla has just released its Model 3 – a vehicle that ordinary people can afford to buy.  Electric vehicles do not pollute.  Just think.  It is possible, that in 10 year’s time, all city vehicles will be electric and the skies will be clear again.

Waste is a big problem but there are opportunities here too.  More and clever recycling is what is required.  Compactors.  Waste water being used to water our gardens and urban forest.  Solving the problem of producing energy from waste without emissions.

There is a lot to do but it’s the cities that can save the planet.  Let’s keep up the good work. The perils of climate change CAN be overcome with lots of human ingenuity and passion.

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