Egypt Today.com posted an article dated August 7, 2019, that brings to light an unusual construction project concept. It combines building towers with an agricultural development project. The project concept if multiplied in numbers will certainly be increasing Egypt’s limited area of farm land that is confined to the Nile Valley and Delta, with a few oases and some arable land in the Sinai peninsula.
CAIRO – 7 August 2019: Italian Architect Stefano Boeri spoke to CNN about Africa’s first vertical forests that will be built in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital (NAC), which is still under construction and is 30 miles east of Cairo.
Each of the three cube-shaped blocks will be 30 meters high and will house seven floors, 350 trees, and 14,000 shrubs of over 100 species. “Each tower of trees aims to provide its human residents with an average of two trees, eight shrubs and 40 bushes each,” as reported by CNN.
Boeri has been designing the blocks in collaboration with Egyptian designer Shimaa Shalash and Italian landscape architect Laura Gatti. Shalash told CNN that execution of the project is set to start in 2020 and finish in 2 years. One of the three buildings will be an energy self-sufficient hotel, while the other two will contain residential apartments.
“Each apartment will have its own balcony with a range of plant species suited to the local climate, planted at various heights and to bloom at different times to provide a lush appearance year round. Plants at every level will provide natural shading and improve the surrounding air quality by absorbing an estimated 7 tons of carbon dioxide and producing 8 tons of oxygen per year,” CNN reported.
Shalash and colleagues explained to CNN that the project – owned by a private real estate developer – is part of a bigger plan to introduce “thousands of green flat roofs and a system of “green corridors” in the city.”
Today isWorld Cities Day 2018and it is hosted by the city of Liverpool, UK and the event is being jointly organised with UN-Habitat and the Shanghai People’s Government.
The event is being attended by mayors, national and local government experts, representatives from global partnerships and coalitions and academics from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the USA. Panel sessions and seminars will give cities opportunities to exchange knowledge and best practices and focus international attention on sustainable urbanization.
In the meantime, here is a picture of what is going on in the world.
UN-Habitat/Julius Mwelu Cities in developing countries like Nairobi in Kenya continue to grow rapidly.
The migration of some 1.4 million people every week to cities around the world “can strain local capacities, contributing to increased risk from natural and human made disasters’” according to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
In his message for World Cities Day, celebrated annually on 31 October, Mr. Guterres stressed that “hazards do not need to become disasters.”
“The answer is to build resilience – to storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, pandemics and economic crises,” he said.
Mr. Guterres explained that cities around the world are doing just that, forging new ways to increase resilience and sustainability.
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok has built vast underground water storage facilities to cope with increased flood risk and save water for drier periods.
In Quito, the capital of Ecuador in South America, local government has reclaimed or protected more than 200,000 hectares of land to boost flood protection, reduce erosion and safeguard the city’s freshwater supply and biodiversity.
The UN chief also indicated that the city of Johannesburg in South Africa “is involving residents in efforts to improve public spaces so they can be safely used for recreation, sports, community events and services such as free medical care.”
World Cities Day was established by the UN to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), flagged the importance of investing in resilience or face growing “economic, social, political and human” risks.
“It has been estimated that without action on climate change – which accounts for just one facet of resilience – some 77 million urban residents risk falling into poverty,” she warned, elaborating that human-made and environmental threats ranged from droughts, floods and fires to economic shocks, disease outbreaks, war and migration.
“Investing in resilience is a wise investment,” the UN Habitat chief said.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities, focuses on the need to preserve human life and limit damage and destruction while continuing to provide infrastructure and services after a crisis.
The WEF on June 7th, 2017 came up with what it labelled “the top 25 cities of the future” citing a report of AT Kearney, a global business-consulting firm, that ranked 128 cities based on their projected levels of importance and competitiveness in the future. It elaborates further saying that “In order to accommodate the masses, it’s important for urban centers to rev up their preparations for the future — through infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, policy-making, environmental protections, and other forward-looking strategies”.
Today, The Conversation taking a different stance looked at 4 world cities and came up with the following article.
It is to be noted that both articles mention no city of the MENA region at the exception of Istanbul, Turkey. Should we take that as a sign that in the MENA, all urban centers are not able to rev up their preparations for the future?
More and more people are moving into cities. As growing populations place pressure on urban housing, infrastructure and transport systems, residents, planners and politicians are having to come up with clever solutions to make their cities decent places to live. Yet the quality of a city is not simply defined by the grandeur of its buildings, or the efficiency of its transport system. Here, four urban planners name their favourite cities, and explain what makes them special.
Vanesa Castán Broto, University of Sheffield
We do not see cities: we experience them through a multitude of encounters. Trying to explain why I like Maputo is like putting together all those encounters in a unique, yet partial, vision of the city. Not only have I had great times there, but Maputo has taught me most of what I know about the contemporary city.
As my research became entangled with the future of this city, my own success depended on understanding Maputo. Liking Maputo became a necessity. So when I try to explain why I like Maputo so much, it’s impossible to detach the reasons from my own biography. I don’t have a straightforward, bounded picture of the city ready to offer up to others. Instead, I can tell you what I learned there.
Maputo revealed to me how contemporary cities go beyond that absurd dichotomy of the “formal” and “informal” city. In Maputo, city managers talk of the separation between a “city of concrete” – the old colonial city, designed by the Portuguese – and the “city of reed” – the neighbourhoods, or barrios, where most of the population live. The latter often lack basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity.
For a while, this way of looking at things made a lot of sense to me. Then I took a liking to walking around the city, as a means of discovery. As you walk Maputo, you experience how the formal and informal cross into each other, to the point where the boundaries become hopelessly blurred.
You may be walking down the Costa do Sol on a Sunday afternoon, watching new hotels being built with Chinese capital, while Maputo’s incipient middle classes eat seafood in front of Maputo Bay. Suddenly, without you noticing, you find yourself in a neighbourhood of makeshift huts, where flooding is obviously a routine problem.
Maputo also showed me how the built environment intrudes into people’s lives. I experienced this myself walking around Chamanculo – an historical but under-serviced neighbourhood near the centre. Life in Chamanculo is organised around a few large open avenues. The buzzing economic activity of small traders selling mostly food, drinks, charcoal and kitchenware, and businesses such as internet cafes, hairdressers and local shops is occasionally interrupted by the roaring of a four-wheel-drive car with tinted windows.
These big avenues are connected by small passages in between the houses, which can considerably shorten walking distances. Every time I go to Chamanculo, I study the map, and I tell to myself that this time I will know my way around the neighbourhood. But once I enter, I am lost. I have never had this experience anywhere else in the world.
I have been lost in Chamanculo numerous times, alone and accompanied, and always experience the same: the streets seem to fold onto me and when I turn back the way I came from, it is completely unfamiliar. I feel both fear and wonder about how the city reinvents itself around me. Unsurprisingly, local residents demand public lighting to increase the security in those areas, and you have to wonder how people – especially women – feel when they have to venture into this labyrinth at night to reach the collective toilet.
Most of all, Maputo has taught me to think of the cities as places of possibility. For example, in Maputo I dropped my obsession with electrification. Talking with people about how electricity and fuels matter to them, I realised that people have found many ways to obtain the services they need – whether they have reliable access to electricity or not.
I am not downplaying the tremendous injustices that nearly a billion residents of informal settlements around the world experience every day, because they don’t have access to basic services. But Maputo invites you to think of different ways in which urban life, right across the globe, could be reimagined. For me, this is a comforting thought in a world that seems to be riding towards a global resource crisis.
James Warren, Open University
In Havana, everything is old – so old, in fact, that the city will celebrate its 500th birthday in November 2019. Its age appears magnified by the fact that many of the buildings don’t receive the level of maintenance that they really deserve. Even so, the city has made efforts to preserve and protect what is historic, while applying new practices such as earmarking income from tourism to rebuild local housing and protect architecturally or culturally significant sites.
The city’s masterplan aims to ensure mixed land use wherever possible, so housing, shops, offices and institutions can often be found in the same building. This creates dynamic, walkable spaces, where everything you need is nearby, and avoids creating places which are only for specific groups, such as tourists or locals.
From my perspective as an urban planner, it is amazing that Havana has been able to do so much work with such limited materials. But perhaps this was inevitable, since high-quality labour is so readily available. An old Cuban joke goes that half the population are qualified builders, since everyone has to pitch in and work on their own properties.
Like other major capitals, Havana is a collection of many “villages” or smaller cities within a city. At every turn, the streetscapes are different: many municipalities can be identified by their distinctive balconies and doorways. These places are full of life, as people are constantly out on the streets: sitting, chatting, singing, selling, buying, repairing and just living.
The city is open for visitors. You can meander down the Malecón, to the urban greenery of Vedado and beyond. And the historic Habana La Vieja acts as a tourist magnet, while retaining plenty of local life for residents.
Yet the city still has corners where tourists don’t go, sometimes called “Habana profunda” (deep Havana). It’s an area where locals live and work, though many still have connections to the city centre through jobs and education. There might not be many tourist attractions there, but the barrios are visually wonderful.
Perhaps unlike the other cities, Havana is a shrinking city. Its population has remained fairly static for a long time now, due to people migrating abroad, combined with low birth rates. The ageing population is not being replaced, which is some cause for concern. Havana remains the jumping-off point for many younger Cubans making their way elsewhere, or coming from other parts of the country to live in the capital. But more seem to leave than stay.
Despite some poor roads, a stretched waste removal system and somewhat erratic energy and water supplies, Havana retains a warm welcome to visitors, and seems determined to become a better place for all those who live there. I think Havana is what it is due to the resilience of the “habaneros” (Havana locals); always ready for the next hurricane, even as they are picking up the pieces after Irma. The Habaneros have excellent mobilisation plans and risk reduction systems in place for any situation.
Residents seem undaunted, even as the sea encroaches on Havana’s low-lying shores. Yet I am optimistic that somehow Havana can survive the longer-term issues linked to climate change – or anything else that comes their way. As Havana and the Habaneros grow older together, is there something we can learn from the way that their society is trying to bring all generations together to solve the city’s various planning issues.
Greg Keeffe, Queen’s University Belfast
Tokyo is the city of my dreams. For the “gaijin” (foreigner) the first few days are a sensory overload. But, as you settle in, that sense of chaos evaporates and suddenly everything seems to be in the right place. As I travel around on double-decker freeways, driverless bus-train hybrids and monorails in the sky, I appear to have found how a city should be.
Whenever I need to do anything, there’s a convenient way to do it right there in front of me. This is true at any scale, from the city-wide transport system, to finding a hot cuppa – it seems there’s always a vending machine for it, just within reach.
In fact, Tokyo really is a huge vending machine, where every necessity is there at the touch of a button: even access to nature. It makes me think that a lot of our social and urban problems are actually born out of frustration, because things don’t work well enough, because things we don’t need get in the way of the perfect urban function.
Like all dreamscapes, you can customise Tokyo to your own desires: hanging out in Shinjuku or Shibuya at night, you can dance, eat, drink and party until dawn to the banging tunes of J-pop. This bit of Tokyo is a sort of global portal to the stars; a timeless place without memory or history.
Yet the very next day (with or without a hangover), you may be in the Roji of Nezu – small, narrow alleys that evoke the memory of a life that was frugal and modest. Visiting temples and shrines in utter silence, you can immerse yourself in the wooden world of the Edo period, dating back to 1600. Here, it seems one mile in space can measure a thousand years in time.
Old and new, fast and slow: just-in-time Tokyo is a city of contradictions. It’s a place where fast-paced culture and introspective meditation work together, creating a space/time warp which feeds not only the physical needs of the population, but also their hearts and souls.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Kaeren van Vliet, Sheffield Hallam University
Like many other European cities, Rotterdam suffered considerable bomb damage in the Second World War. But its postwar reconstruction took a distinctive path, looking to the future instead of the past – and this continues to give the city a unique character, based on movement, light, energy and progress.
Rotterdam is a city on the move. Trams glide and clang through the city; spotlessly clean barges travel up and down the river taking goods to and from the continent; bright yellow water taxis zoom across the water and cyclists travel rapidly in vast shoals – sometimes to the alarm of slower pedestrians.
In the face of rising sea levels, sinking land and ever fuller rivers, water has to be respected, not resisted. Water engineering is an art – the lakes and canals in the city and its surrounds are connected, monitored and managed. School playgrounds, fields and underground car parks cooperate to prevent homes from flooding. New housing is provided with canals, and some residents are even fortunate enough to be able to keep a boat at the bottom of their garden.
In this city, there is space for people. Most of the population live in flats or small homes, so there are playgrounds for children, tree-lined waterside walks, seats for resting and city centre parks, which feel like a home outside of home. People are particularly proud of the fronts of their houses, and many have benches for sitting and talking to neighbours. People here seem to trust their neighbours, leaving flowerpots and bicycles out on the street. And there are allotments around the city edge, to escape to on summer evenings or at the weekend.
At night, the city centre is aglow. The lights of the Erasmus bridge and new tower blocks along the Maas link the southern part of the city to the centre. As you cross the bridge, the pavement sparkles like the milky way. The houses in the suburbs are radiant in the nighttime, with large windows offering a momentary glimpse into the home life of the locals.
Nature here seems ordered and managed, water is held in straight courses and trees and grass are kept neatly trimmed. The city ducks seem friendly – the suburban geese, not so much. The landscape is big but predictable, stretching towards an endless horizon. There is light here and, though often pale and grey, the sky is vast. You feel as though you could cycle on forever.
If you look hard, you can find traditional windmills and tulips. But you’re more likely to find ecological prairie planting or vast windfarms rotating in unison, powering the city into the future. Rotterdam reminds me of what planning, landscape and urban design can achieve.
As urban areas continue to expand, it was confirmed at the recently held UN Habitat III Conference that most of the growth is unplanned and unregulated in most countries of the world. The MENA region stands generally amongst the worst affected with the North-African half of it like Egypt literally leading the way. The Middle-Eastern north side painfully drawn into conflict and consequent divestment is not exactly far behind. The south-eastern as represented by countries of the GCC, have recently made giant steps in planning and regulating their respective urban spaces. This UN sponsored Habitat III gathering in Quito, Ecuador Summit aimed at helping shape future urban living as a response to pressing demands for housing, transport, infrastructure and urban development. It counselled that this should only be other than an increase of the same sprawl of those existing urban fabrics and their ensuing impact on the environment. With more than half of the world’s population now living in urban areas, one of the biggest impact would certainly not be a decrease in CO2 emissions. This contribution is about relating Urban areas expanding and CO2 Emissions increasing.
Last week, surveyed CO2 levels were found to have surged to a new high thus marking the world’s changing climate in a definite way. Global sources of CO2, dominated heavily by the US, China and Europe’s emissions have reached levels in the atmosphere unknown before and are believed not to reduce for “many generations”.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has declared that 2016 could be the first time in recorded history that in a full year, a certain 400 parts per million benchmark was over-taken globally.
Human emissions of CO2 notably from the ever increasingly urbanised centres of the world were aggravated by some sort of weather mishaps themselves it is confirmed were due to human activities in those centres atmosphere.
Apart from agreements to phase out HFC gases, the WMO advises that nations must thereafter focus on cutting their CO2 emissions so as, in the end, hopefully help temperatures not to increase more than 2°C. Around 200 nations signed and ratified last year the Paris COP21 Agreement and will meet again in Marrakesh next month to wishfully decide on steps forward.
The WMO published their report on October 24th, 2016 and it is fairly explicit as to the possible effect of such phenomenon. We believe, this will be reviewed and acted upon at the COP22 summit.
Globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
CO2 levels had previously reached the 400 ppm barrier for certain months of the year and in certain locations but never before on a global average basis for the entire year. The longest-established greenhouse gas monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, predicts that CO2 concentrations will stay above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and not dip below that level for many generations.
The growth spurt in CO2 was fuelled by the El Niño event, which started in 2015 and had a strong impact well into 2016. This triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of “sinks” like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2. These sinks currently absorb about half of CO2 emissions but there is a risk that they may become saturated, which would increase the fraction of emitted carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere, according to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
Between 1990 and 2015 there was a 37% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities.
“The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not.”
“The recent agreement in Kigali to amend the so-called Montreal Protocol and phase out hydrofluorocarbons, which act as strong greenhouse gases, is good news. WMO salutes the commitment of the international community to meaningful climate action,” said Mr Taalas.
“But the real elephant in the room is carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years and in the oceans for even longer. Without tackling CO2 emissions, we can not tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2°C above the pre-industrial era. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation.” he said.
WMO and partners are working towards an Integrated Global Greenhouse Gas Information System to provide information that can help nations to track the progress toward implementation of their national emission pledges, improve national emission reporting and inform additional mitigation actions. This system builds on the long-term experience of WMO in greenhouse gas observations and atmospheric modelling.
WMO is also striving to improve weather and climate services for the renewable energy sector and to support the Green Economy and sustainable development. To optimize the use of solar, wind and hydropower production, new types of weather services are needed.
BBC News asked in a TV programme one evening of February 5th, 2016 this question: Will Saudi Arabia’s plans for a new city be successful?
The show went on to elaborate how Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is one of the most ambitious construction projects in the world and that would have made sense at a time when oil was $100+ a barrel. A premise of an answer could be found to a certain degree in the location of this new town, i.e. on the western seaboard as opposed to the oil rich eastern one.
McKinsey published this article written by the same Fahd Al-Rasheed interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur in the above mentioned programme. Slight but noticeable different stance could be discerned.
To build a city from scratch, create a solid economic foundation.
Three millennia ago, Akhenaten began construction of the Egyptian city of Amarna—perhaps the first example of planned urban infrastructure in recorded history. Within a decade of Akhenaten’s death, Amarna was abandoned—ancient evidence that building infrastructure and convincing people to use it are two fundamentally different challenges.
Building an economic infrastructure
King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is the world’s largest privately funded city. Located about 100 kilometers north of Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea, KAEC is a public–private partnership with the government of Saudi Arabia; it is built with private capital, independently of oil revenue. KAEC is an image of what Saudi Arabia could look like without hydrocarbons: a trade and logistics gateway offering companies access to a fast-growing regional market of 620 million people.
KAEC is master planned to accommodate a population of two million people over an area of 181 square kilometers—about the size of Washington, DC. Today, around 25 percent of the total area is either developed or under development. KAEC could be home to about 10,000 people by the end of the year. By 2020, 40 percent of the planned area will be developed, and the population should be around 50,000 people.
KAEC was conceived to attract new industries to the city by meeting latent demand within Saudi Arabia, which is the largest economy in the region. For example, 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s pharmaceuticals are imported; KAEC therefore encouraged leading pharmaceutical companies to establish operations in the city. Today, pharmaceuticals is one of its fastest-growing clusters.
More than 100 global and local companies are setting up operations in the city in nonoil industries, including pharmaceutical, automotive, logistics, and consumer goods. One European oil company operates a blending plant for its lubricants business in the city; a carmaker is assembling commercial trucks; an air-conditioner firm is getting ready for production and exports. Next year will see the addition of a bonded zone and sophisticated warehousing operations.
An integral part of KAEC’s economic model is the construction of trade and logistics infrastructure. The city operates King Abdullah Port, a deepwater port and the first in the region to be built entirely with private capital. The port now has the capacity to manage 3 million containers a year. This will increase to 4.5 million by the end of 2016 and 20 million by the time it is finished in 2025.
The port is connected to the national road network to facilitate transportation, thus attracting companies that need improved access to the Saudi market. The port is also adjacent to the city’s Industrial Valley light-manufacturing zone, allowing companies to ship raw materials in to their manufacturing plants and ship product out, either to the Saudi market or the broader region.
This economic infrastructure creates jobs and thus growing demand for residential and civic infrastructure, such as housing, schools, healthcare facilities, and recreation. KAEC builds this civic infrastructure to scale.
The “ghost cities” developed elsewhere are an eloquent example of the risk of building for long-term end use without an economic base. Facilities that lie idle until the population expands to support them are expensive to maintain. In a private-sector model, however, facilities must be economically viable almost from the outset to mitigate maintenance costs. Infrastructure is built to meet near-term projections and then expanded as the economic cycle gains momentum.
KAEC’s main medical center at the moment, for example, is a secondary-care facility providing emergency support, general medicine, laboratory services, and a rotating schedule of specialist clinics. There is insufficient demand for a full hospital in the city today. If built, it would be largely mothballed until the population expanded to accommodate it. Hospital construction is a project for the future.
Building a social infrastructure
A significant challenge with planned cities is creating spaces in which people want to live and interact while keeping the city affordable, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where there is a shortage of affordable housing. It is one thing to build a city that works. It is another thing to build one that lives.
Ultimately, the residents themselves will add color and vibrancy as they begin to define the space in which they live—opening boutique businesses, creating cultural neighborhoods, and initiating community-led programs. KAEC’s residential communities are built to encourage interaction, incorporating green spaces, community centers, cycle paths, and ready access to the city’s recreational facilities.
Social infrastructure also needs to adapt to emerging and future technologies. KAEC is constantly updating its master plan to adapt to the fact that technologies that were prohibitively expensive a decade ago can be installed today at low cost. The original master plan has evolved to incorporate advanced fiber optics, smart-utility networks, and a wide array of sensors to manage city operations.
Technology is also profoundly changing the relationship that people enjoy with their cities and city administrators. Citizens of KAEC can report municipal issues directly to the city management via a dedicated app, allowing information to be acted upon quickly while reducing the time and cost of providing essential community-care services. A central incident-control room monitors more serious issues such as traffic accidents and petty crime, coordinating the emergency and security services through a real-time city-information system.
Technology will be a major factor in city planning far into the future. The adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs), for example, could have a profound impact on urban design. What will it mean to be able to significantly decrease the number of vehicles on the roads? What do AVs mean for residential spaces? To commuters? To parks and pedestrian areas? These are among the many questions that KAEC is working through today. The widespread use of AVs may be a decade or more away, but planning a new city requires thinking at least that far ahead.
Amarna is an object lesson in the dangers of building cities on little more than a political whim. Every city needs a reason to exist. It’s not enough to build infrastructure: cities need to compete economically and be attractive to all kinds of people. Those that fail in these respects will, like Amarna, disappear into the deserts of history. By focusing on creating and maintaining a sustainable economic cycle, KAEC is applying the lessons of the past to build for the future.
About the author(s)
Fahd Al-Rasheed is the managing director and group CEO of King Abdullah Economic City.