Cities will house 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050 and require urban infrastructure investment of at least $3.7 trillion per year. The only way to meet the challenges of soaring population growth and climate change is to build infrastructure that meets both social and environmental needs. “We must design and implement strategies that articulate the benefits of nature — economically, socially and as a critical piece of building future resilience,” argues Elizabeth Yee of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiatives.
The city of El Paso, Texas, for example, is making the business case (with help from the consulting firm Earth Economics) for preserving and restoring its surrounding desert land. In Medellín, Colombia, early-warning alerts for potential natural disasters and “community risk management” can build social cohesion in crime-intense neighborhoods. In New York, Dutch engineering firm Arcadis is working with Rebuild by Design on a U-shaped flood protection zone around Manhattan that also provides parks and public spaces. Such landscapes can be more effective than traditional flood control measures.
“Traditional models of conservation and regulation alone cannot catalyse the kind of systemic behavioral change that will renew our relationship with the environment,” Yee writes. “Rather than endlessly plugging proverbial holes in concrete walls, we can help nature synchronise with such economic needs.”