The Future of Cities: Creating value that is shared, sustained and lasting

 In Conferences and Summits, News, Urban planning

Cities represent only 1% of the world’s geographical surface, but are home to half of the world’s geographical population and generate around 80% of combined global GDP. Making them sustainable and inclusive while bringing prosperity for all, and not just profitable for some, remains a key challenge worldwide.

Text: Chris Graeme Photos: Joaquim Morgado

Urban planning and renewable energy experts from Portugal and around the world gathered in Lisbon for the 2nd Future of Cities Summit in October.

Organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and the British Embassy in Lisbon /UK’s Department for Business and Trade, supported and/or sponsored by Santander Portugal, Moneris, JLL, BP, Galp, and Telles, the event featured 20 speakers divided into three panels representing many companies based in Portugal and overseas to discuss restructuring and innovating cities and renewable energy issues and challenges.

Reorganising cities for the future

In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Amilcar Lourenço, Administrator of Santander Portugal said
That it was important for mankind that “our cities are reorganised for the future”.

Santander, he said, is committed to the future wellbeing and development of people and companies supported by sustainable growth with a target of zero emissions by 2050 in its combat against climate change.
“We are focused on providing what customers need in their energy transition with well-trained teams and experts advising our clients on accelerating it while promoting incentives across our organisations”.

And added: “In Portugal more than 80% of buildings do not have ‘green’ BREAM certification. We have formed a partnership with the Portuguese energy operator to improve the efficiency in areas such as solar panels and heat pumps, and offer a credit line for sustainable investments focused on mitigating climate change that is focused on small companies”.

Santander also continues to invest in urban rehabilitation, and in terms of improving the energy efficiency of buildings, financing 250 projects in recent years totalling 700 million KW.

In the first half of 2023 one in every five corporate financing operations was aimed at sustainable projects, but he said that the transition to a low carbon economy “must be a realistic evolution and not an overnight revolution” in order to minimise costs and support jobs and guarantee lifestyle quality.

The British Ambassador to Portugal, Mr. Chris Sainty said that as recently as 1900 fewer than 1 in 6 people lived in urban areas. By 2050 that number will rise to 4 in every six. “The role of cities and their impact on every part of our lives has grown in an extraordinary way”, he said.

“The way our cities are designed, configured, governed and managed intersects with just about every area of political, social, economic, financial and public policy making life”, said Mr. Sainty.

“Given that in 2023 more than 50% of the world’s population live in cities, more than 70% work in cities, and 80% of the world’s economic value is generated in cities, cities are the powerhouses of economic growth and innovation”, the ambassador added.

But they were also “major contributors to the many environmental and social challenges that we face”: climate change, pollution in the air, on the land, and in the water; as well as depletion of bio-diversity and natural resources, water management and waste, shifting demographics, population changes, migration, urban shortages of housing, social inequality, and more.

“Tackling these problems requires the very best of human innovation and creativity, bringing together the best of our academics, policy makers, and the skills of our best practitioners,” said the ambassador who ends his term in Lisbon at the end of this year.

Not business as usual

Urban planning expert, Miguel J. Martins of Miguel J. Martins Advisors said it couldn’t be “business as usual” and that “thinking out of the box” was required as well as “getting out of our comfort zone” when designing and developing the cities of the future.

“We need to do this not to save the planet; the planet does not need saving; we need saving. We are doing this for us, for the future of our kids and future generations,” he said.

The consultant asked if a city like Black Rock City where the Burning Man festival is held, and where people cooperate and thrive, can be considered as a model for a city for the future?

Or was a city for the future one such as The Line or NEOM on the border between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. This city will be 100 metres tall, 200 metre wide and 170 km long, and is expected to house some 450,000 people, increasing to 1.5 to 2 million people by 2030. NEOM will also be home to nine million residents, and built with a footprint of just 34Km2.

“We really have different options when we start designing cities for the next generation and they can be very different”, he said.

Martins said the one thing that distinguishes one city from the other is identity, and cities were the cause of a lot of the problems that we are facing today, but they can also be the solution. Cities, he said, needed to be more sustainable, resilient, and less polluting.

Cities should be centres of opportunity, but it is also interesting to look at the exodus from cities since Covid-19 and the rise of the digital nomads as an influence. They had to be centres of innovation, engines of growth, and an inclusive melting pot where diversity, equity and inclusion come in.

“We all know that sustainability can mean the three ‘P’s’ – Planet, People and Profit. If everything stays the same we are going to need 70% more food by 2050 to feed the planet”, he said.

Basic needs were also vital, such as health, education and shelter, wellbeing, equity and inclusion. “This is what for me is important, The third ‘P’ which used to be about profit is now about prosperity”.

Creating sustained and shared value

Referring to the 2020 Davos Manifesto, Martins said that this was no longer about just one stakeholder – the shareholder. “This is about all stakeholders, and society is one, and nature is another”, he said.

And added: “It is about creating value that is sustained and shared, and lastly, it is about thinking long term.”

Billy Cobbett, a freelance advisor on urban development outlined how in just five decades the world’s population had gone from 2.5Bn in the 1950s to 8Bn people last year. “The change just in the last decades has been the single biggest demographic shift in the history of humanity.”

“The global picture is very unbalanced and differential. In advanced economies like Japan, Russia and elsewhere we have an ageing and declining population overall, whereas 50% of the entire increase in population by 2050 will take place in only eight countries of which five are in Africa.

Understanding these demographics is essential to understanding the pivotal role that cities play in them.”

Cobbett said it exposes and puts pressures on governments in terms of their policies, planning, infrastructure, economy, and budgets.

“These days the biggest driver of population growth is people having more children in cities and the response from governments to these demographic changes is one of systemic policy and market failure.”

“No country had ever successfully prevented urbanisation as a phenomena, and the result is as predictable as it is miserable: significantly displaced urban growth, the growth of slums and favelas, inefficient, unserviced polluted settlements, and concentrations of the urban poor in ghettoes concentrating up to 70% of an urban population in some cities in Brazil .”

These were the outcomes of the wrong responses and the result is that it is expensive for the poor and very expensive to the city and national economy.

Cobbett pointed out, however, that there have been specialised concentrations of local government focusing on specific topics such as C40 in 2005, looking at climate change in large cities while at a national level there have been very significant changes led by President Lula of Brazil where the government created the Ministry of Cities to address the consequences of the failed urban transition which had happened under successive military dictatorships and authoritarian governments throughout Latin America.

He explained that the challenge now is to go in and “retrofit” in the most efficient and least expensive way; putting in services, adjusting land and fixing housing and infrastructure after the event of urbanisation because the populations had been ignored and vilified for so long in the favelas.

Portugal and UK- leading the way in renewables

Andy Brown OBE, ex CEO Galp, Board member Orsted and Energy Institute (pictured) in his keynote speech on Energy Transition / New generation technologies pointed out that the built environment accounted for over one-third of CO2 emissions and that the retrofit of old buildings was crucial since 90% of the buildings in 2030 are already being built.

“The built environment is accounts for over one-third of CO2 emissions and given the retrofit needed, this will be an area for intense focus. Like transport, the electrification of the built environment is a crucial lever. Today, about 35% of energy is provided by electricity, this will have to increase by 50% by 2030.

Andy Brown said that UK had reduced CO2 emissions by 33% in the last 10 years and Portugal by 19%.

Both countries, he said, now have an average of more than a 40% share in renewables in power generation, and on some days both countries achieve very high levels of renewable penetration. “The UK and Portugal are both leaders in Europe”.

“The seeds of hope in the new clean energy technologies have been sown, we must now establish the preconditions to allow these seeds to grow in order to protect and preserve our climate for future generations”, he concluded.