Building better cities: smart solutions from UrbanTec 2017
This piece builds on my contribution to OECD Forum 2017, Bridging Divides, and conversations on ways to ensure international businesses conduct themselves responsibly and manage their global supply chains with respect to the environment and local populations.
This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract.
In a context where cities have been playing an increasingly central role in contemporary society, it is essential to take a fresh look at the different processes of urbanisation. It is also important to stimulate the debate, not only from an economic point of view, but also from an environmental perspective.
There is a need to raise awareness of environmental issues and the welfare of the population in an attempt to promote integrated solutions and practices to meet the challenges posed by our cities on a local, regional and global scale.
In Brazil, these challenges involve the various forms of imbalances caused by the lack of planning. Most of our cities have grown in a disorderly manner with no sustainable model. What prevails is the logic of individual transportation, with its intensive use of fossil fuels, uncontrolled urban spread and the massive production of solid waste and gas emissions. All of these pollute the atmosphere and raise the global temperature, maintaining infrastructure systems that do not prioritise natural areas. These aspects deteriorate the urban landscape and compromise the quality of life, highlighting the need to find alternatives that reduce the impacts of urbanisation on sensitive issues and make it possible to modernize city infrastructures. São Paulo, Brazil’s largest metropolis, is an example of non-sustainable expansion. The city is paying a high price for the planning of social housing, labour market and transportation for its almost 20 million inhabitants.
The discussions promoted by the international conference UrbanTec 2017 – Smart Solutions for Better Cities focused on solutions to make cities more sustainable. The event – which has already been held in different cities across the world, such as Cologne, Germany and Beijing, China – celebrated its second edition this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, organised by Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) in partnership with Koelnmesse.
On the agenda was establishing a new urban matrix for city planning and implementing measures to expand a city’s capacity for growth and resilience, based on successful national and international experiences. The conference opened with a presentation of initiatives concerning planning and the use of city planning instruments for solving urban problems; other topics included resilience and urban mobility.
The debates continued with a discussion of the energy issue. Participants shared some reflections on the potential of renewables as one of the mainstays of modern economic growth and alternative shared energy generation sources, as well as providing solutions for public lighting. The core of the debate was the Brazilian model which, despite having an energy mix with a high level of renewable sources, especially hydro-electric, includes a mere 3.51% of wind and solar power in domestic electric energy supply. Also discussed were solutions for managing the consumption of energy to reduce impacts on the environment based on the perspective of citizens, business and government.
Another panel considered the challenges posed by the digital transformation of cities and the best practices for the strategic implementation of solutions linked to smart cities, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) and the Internet of Things.
The conference also dealt with financing and the difficulties of securing contracts for urban infrastructure projects, which was the theme of the closing panel. Participants discussed the difficulties cities face developing infrastructure projects and realising projects in the specialized market, where legislation favours not the best project but the cheapest. This situation creates a vicious cycle of low productivity and low quality projects and, consequently, poor infrastructure for the cities. This session enjoyed the participation of representatives from national and international development banks, as well as organisations dedicated to control and regulation, in an endeavor to enable city improvement projects. UrbanTec 2017 also promoted networking opportunities that consisted in exclusive meetings between representatives of Brazilian municipalities, urban development funds, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and private companies that offer technological solutions.
With its capacity for institutional articulation, FGV made every effort to make this edition of the conference a successful platform for developing strategic partnerships between Brazilian cities, national and international companies and financing institutions. Through this initiative, FGV hopes to break down barriers and build bridges for multilateral collaboration for the benefit of more sustainable, inclusive and competitive cities.
- Do you think a new regulatory framework for infrastructure financing is needed to make our cities more sustainable?
- Where do you see the role of renewable energy in this debate?