Urbanisation is occurring at an unprecedented rate; 75% of the world’s population will be living in urban environments by 2050. (Person, Newton, & Roberts, 2014). As the vast majority of the global population will be living in cities in decades to come, there are many challenges that we must face as stated by authors of the book: “Resilient Sustainable Cities; a future”
“Not only are cities facing their current challenges of pollution, transportation, climate change etc. but they are about to experience the ‘slow burns’ of population growth that will stretch to breaking point urban infrastructure and service capacity; resource scarcity (i.e. peak oil, potable water and food security) that will dramatically change what we consume and how; environmental pressures that will change how we live and where; and shifting demographic and business preferences that will exacerbate pressures.” (Person, Newton, & Roberts, 2014)
To summarise, what has been said above is that mankind faces two major (broad) challenges in the 21st century:
- To urgently deal with climate change and pollution that is caused by human activities.
- To change or transform urban infrastructure and the current way we live and consume our products.
Despite the fact that many cities, including governments, businesses, organisations and society as a whole recognize the importance and urgence of dealing with these challenges, the very first step is the need to have a common understanding of the position of a city in relation to its (surrounding) environment. What this means is that a city should be aware of its existence and relationship relative to the natural world. Once this is understood and recognised by (key) players within a city, including the municipality, businesses and citizens, then (as cited by Peter Newman and Isabelle Jennings authors of the book, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems) ideally a city should have the following point of view or perspective in relation to the environment:
“The ecosystem viewpoint is an inclusive one that sees humans as part of local socioecological systems, from bioregions to the biosphere, in which the focus is on relationships and processes that support life in its myriad forms, especially partnerships and cooperation.” (Newman & Jennings, 2008)
They (the authors) add: “The core idea of the book is that cities need to be soon as ecosystems integrated within their wider context – communities nested within bioregions and the global biosphere.” (Newman & Jennings, 2008)
Ecosystems are: “all the living things, from plants and animals to microscopic organisms that share an environment” (Dictionary, Vocabulary.com). When talking about ecosystems within the context of a city, then the term, Eco-city is applied.
“Eco-Cities are places where people can live healthier and economically productive lives while reducing their impact on the environment. They work to harmonize existing policies, regional realities, and economic and business markets with their natural resources and environmental assets. Eco-Cities strive to engage all citizens in collaborative and transparent decision making, while being mindful of social equity concerns.” (Hodgson)
The last sentence of the explanation given by Mr. Hodgson is of crucial importance in striving for a more sustainable and resilient city as he says that eco-cities aim to engage all citizens in collaborative and transparent decision making. Despite the fact that citizens are key (players) in decision-making and (urban) planning of cities they live in, in most instances that is not the case as the local government and governance of most cities are currently centrally controlled and dominated by political and industrial players. However, this is changing as cities such as Melbourne, Australia, Portland, US, Vancouver, Canada, Barcelona, Spain, Växjö, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark and Eindhoven, the Netherlands are becoming more flexible, open and more willing to invite industry, science & education, civil organisations, communities and above all: citizens to become involved in (urban) city decision-making and planning. One of the most practical and inspirational examples of how a multidisciplinary approach in which stakeholders of a city come together to collectively tackle (urban) challenges at a local level is the co-creative, multidisciplinary venture called: AiREAS.
“AiREAS is a multidisciplinary venture that focuses on creating “healthy cities” by taking air quality and human health as points of reference.”
“The mission of any Local AiREAS is to co-create a healthy city through purpose driven interaction of the four key parts of any local society:”
- Local government: regional responsibility
- Business: applied innovation and services
- Science: research and education
- Local population: behaviour and mentality
(Close, AiREAS, marktleiderschap.wordpress.com)
The multidisciplinary approach that AiREAS uses to co-create a healthy city is based on core human values which are:
- Food (including water)
To many people, it may initially seem a little confusing and difficult to understand that a co-creative, multidisciplinary venture is based on (human) values instead of economic or profit motives. Especially as people ask themselves: “Where does money come in or how do they finance these projects?”
Indeed, it might seem cause confusion when hearing about AiREAS as a co-creative, value-driven venture. However, despite the ‘confusing’ ideology or perspective of AiREAS in developing innovations and creating values which contribute to living healthy, sustainably and in harmony with nature, it does provide benefits to everyone as it involves all pillars of a society.
The perspective or viewpoint regarding money within AiREAS is that it is an instrument or tool in setting up and carrying out projects, but not the end-goal of making a financial return or profit. Money is a human invention, originally created to facilitate the trade between goods or services more easily, then its predecessor which was bartering. However as humans are (or tend to be) greedy in nature, since the invention of money, banks, businesses and financial institutions have used it to enrich themselves and eventually and inevitably, society had become succumbed by profit motives. And as we are all well aware of, greediness, materialism and capitalistic thinking has inevitably caused financial crises and depressions. Money is not everything. You cannot buy health.
One of the co-founders of AiREAS, named Jean-Paul Close has illustrated (as can be seen below) the unique position that AiREAS operates in and distinguishes the traditional transaction economy and the transformation economy.
AiREAS operates in the transformation economy where new innovations and values are created through multidisciplinary co-creation. These innovations can be enlarged in the transaction economy through which a royalty is paid back to AiREAS in the transformation economy. In this way, AiREAS creates a full “financial” cycle in which every new innovation that was initially financed by the multidisciplinary project group earns itself back through royalties which can be used to finance new projects.
Having clarified how AiREAS operates within a local economy and through its unique position in the transformation economy are able to become financially self-sufficient in which can be called their own ‘circular economy’, it is important to understand how they function and use their ideology in co-creating a healthy city.
Currently many (developed) cities are in the process of developing and using (new) technologies and innovations in creating a “Smart city”. A Smart city, according to Wikipedia, is a city that uses information and communication technologies to enhance quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption and to improve contact between citizens and government. Its objectives are to make more efficient use of physical infrastructure, to engage effectively with local people in local governance and to learn, adapt and innovate. However when cities such as Eindhoven reach level 3 of city development (integrated Smart City), there is choice regarding of how to use the gathered information and applied (communication) technologies. These two options are:
1: Use innovations and applied technologies for the purpose of (governmental) control and economic steering (i.e. traffic cameras, taxation, facilitating businesses and industry rather than looking after the needs of citizens)
2: Develop and use (new) technologies and innovations in a multidisciplinary way, involving citizens as participants in city (planning) projects.
The latter option is where AiREAS is positioned. As the second option involves every stakeholder of a city (i.e. government, science, education, industry and citizens) it facilitates the needs of everyone living and working in a city. AiREAS is a practical example of how it uses this multidisciplinary approach to develop technologies and create innovations that contribute towards a more resilient, healthy and sustainable eco-city.
The illustration below may enhance your understanding of where AiREAS is positioned within the context of city level developmentThe main focus of level four, city development, is on an active and participative society. Creating a healthier, more sustainable and resilient city ultimately depends on the willingness of every pillar of a society, including citizens to collectively take responsibility around core human values. Once citizen, government, businesses and (research) institutions recognise the importance of the liveability and attractiveness of a city depends on the health and safety of its citizens and the (surrounding) environment, then inevitably, it must decide to shift its economic priorities towards social, sustainable, and ecological goals.
If a city and all of its inhabitants desire to live and thrive safely and healthy, now and in the future, then they must take responsibility together in a multidisciplinary way in which ‘everyone’ actively participates and is involved in decision-making regarding infrastructure, (spatial) planning, transportation, energy etc. It is neither going to be top-down or a bottom-up approach, but everybody working together simultaneously. AiREAS is the very first co-creative multidisciplinary venture that is a practical, leading example of how citizens can work together in order to collectively take responsibility for their environment.