REAL ESTATE MINUTE with Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh: Re-imagining livable cities through green solutions

Re-imagining livable cities
Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh:

Often times when you ask people to imagine cities of the future, they usually think of it in terms of great technological advancement where the typical day looks like one of those out of a science fiction movie from present times. In their minds eye, they envisage the digitization or ‘roboticization’ and automation of tasks with little human intervention, from flying cars or driverless cars to drone deliveries etc.

While technology is indeed a great enabler, it also comes with costs to people and the planet. Increasingly our cities are becoming grey by the day and beset with so much pollution and drying up of water and other natural resources which in turn make our cities unlivable as we would have wanted.

“The battle for the planet will be won or lost in cities,” stated a recent report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions. That is inarguably true. Already, cities are responsible for 75 percent of GDP and global carbon emissions, with most of that coming from transport and buildings. Furthermore, the urban population is expected to double by 2050, with the OECD forecasting that 85 percent of a global population will be urban-dwellers in a century – that’s 9 billion people living in cities. Already, more than 80 percent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels below WHO standards, with air pollution killing an estimated 4.2 million people prematurely worldwide every year.

In addition to lack of access to green spaces, inefficient public transportation systems, and healthcare availability for inhabitants, cities are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and natural resource use and are increasingly contributing to poor to poor personal and environmental wellness. To make our cities more livable, inclusive and sustainable, there is the need to reimagine the city envelope and management.

To create that green city where people breathe in quality air, walk safely, cycle or simply wind down in green parks or neighborhood play spaces, we can pick a leaf from a study shared by Macquire Capital below.

Rethinking densification

Some of the challenges that can arise when rapid urbanisation isn’t managed properly include urban sprawl, constrained land resources, environmental degradation and pollution, and rising housing costs that create inequality in cities by imposing barriers to entry for those on average or low incomes.

As cities increase in size and number, Macquarie Capital’s John Pickhaver says it is essential that economies establish plans to consolidate urban populations and become smarter in the ways they approach densification. He says this means breaking the association densification has with overpopulation and cramped high-rise accommodation and reframing it as something more humane and positive.

“It can’t be about building high rises so people can live in more dense environments. It has to be about creating communities where increased density is supported by services, transport and other infrastructure.”

Arup Global Transport Leader, Isabel Dedring says the value of densification is that it can bring diverse groups of people together and create opportunities for interaction in multi-purpose places.

She says planning processes should start to reflect this human-centric approach by engaging with communities from the beginning and putting the outcomes people want at the heart of development, instead of designing first and seeking feedback later.

“The key starting point for successful new developments is: what does the community need, what does the community want?” Dedring says.

Projects that offer mixed-use housing, transport connections, social amenities, green spaces and environmental sustainability will allow for better management of densification, while at the same time boosting the happiness and wellbeing of city dwellers.“ Some of these ingredients are regarded as costly, when in fact they are a bargain if they motivate people that a place is worth coming to and it offers community and value,” says Sir Stuart Lipton, CEO of real estate development business Lipton Rogers.“If we were to talk about engagement, these are all things that make people feel relaxed and therefore more engaged and productive.”

Creating multi-use and equitable neighbourhoods

Housing affordability is a challenge around the world, with concerns raised about whether cities can be equitable and enjoyable for all. Currently, Hong Kong, Sydney and Vancouver have the highest median housing prices out of the world’s major cities and the World Health Organisation has identified housing conditions as a major factor in the health and wellbeing of urban populations.

Arup Global Transport Leader Isabel Dedring says as urban populations grow, great cities will be those that develop new living environments that allow all people to engage with city life. Housing oriented developments that offer a mix of housing, work and leisure opportunities, alongside direct access to reliable public transport, can bring greater humanity to urban living.

She says planners are looking for “a more well-rounded integration of all income levels” when creating new high density living spaces. Housing schemes such as London’s Elephant and Castle regeneration offer an example of how to improve the accessibility of cities by building a mix of prices, tenures and social housing into accommodation developments.

Chris Voyce, Macquarie Australia and New Zealand Co-Head of Infrastructure, Utilities and Renewables, says mixed use and mixed tenure approaches to high density housing not only create fairer and more interesting cities, they can also increase social mobility and educational aspiration by offering a more integrated and diverse environment.

Rapid mass transit

The World Bank highlights the mobility of people and goods as one of the greatest economic, environmental and social challenges of our time. By 2030, passenger traffic will surpass 80,000 billion passenger kilometres and freight volume will grow by 70 per cent globally.5

Transport oriented development is central to the success of densification. Mass transit has enormous potential to improve quality of life in cities by providing faster connections to economic and social opportunities and reducing the congestion and pollution associated with cars.

“Transport is absolutely critical when you have strong population growth,” says Macquarie Group Chief Economist and Global Head of Macro Research, Ric Deverell.

“If all the projections are right and we’re going to be creating bigger cities, then we need to plan for it and we need to inbuild the infrastructure now.”

He says prioritising high-speed rail over bus and car travel brings a multitude of benefits to cities by bringing people together and creating ease of travel. Fast rail can ease housing affordability pressures in inner-city suburbs by allowing people to live further away from the city centre and boost regional economies by connecting them to urban areas.

London, New York and Chongqing in China have made their urban centres more accessible by providing rapid rail connections that connect satellite regions to the city in 30 minutes. Population growth and housing affordability concerns in Sydney and Melbourne are putting increased pressure on both cities to do the same.

Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, with its more than 200 entrances and retail and cultural precincts, is an example of the possibilities available when transport hubs are viewed as a part of the city experience, rather than mere points of arrival and departure.Hong Kong has also made clever use of the airspace above its MTR metro hubs by constructing commercial, retail and housing infrastructure above the stations.

“People can live near the station and go shopping and socialise. It’s a sensible approach and an example of good practice,” Macquarie Capital Australia and New Zealand Co-Head John Pickhaver says. This was shared originally courtesy of Macquire Capital.

The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult

 & Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh


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