As extreme weather events, like sea-level rise, wildfires, and other ecological disasters occur, climate change is becoming a more real and imminent threat by the day. In response, innovative concepts are spawning to mitigate effects and protect our society’s future. One such approach discussed in the sustainability and climate discourse has been regenerative placemaking. But what is this?
Regenerative placemaking offers a new, holistic approach that is actively being applied in cities on a global scale. It seeks to go beyond net-zero to create a net positive impact on the environment. The principles that support regenerative placemaking are many, including living systems thinking, biophilia, sustainable practices, and community engagement.
In this article, we are highlighting a few cities that are practicing these principles, and what can be learned from them.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Already known as the world’s greenest and most habitable city, Copenhagen has employed numerous regenerative placemaking tactics that contribute to its healthy living environment.
- Inclusive Public Spaces: Copenhagen has designed numerous urban development projects to create places that are healthy, sustainable, and foster inclusive social interactions. Sønder Boulevard Street in the Vesterbro neighborhood is one example. With a portion of the Boulevard developed into a recreational park, the green space helps reduce the urban heat island effect, the desired goal in Copenhagen. The park also encourages more walking and more outdoor activities which contribute to the overall health of the community.
- Energy Efficiency: The public’s support for wind power has grown substantially due to the encouragement of community-owned facilities and awareness campaigns. Based on Copenhagen’s Climate Plan, a hundred new wind turbines will be installed by 2025 to contribute to the intermittent energy already being provided from existing wind farms. Their energy efficiency extends to their built environment as well. For instance, a percentage of hotels in Copenhagen have an eco-certificate or other prestigious environmental credentials, through the help of environmental managers.
2. Medellin, Colombia
Medellin is a member of the “100 Resilient Cities” and part of the UN’s Green Cities initiative. In the midst of its natural forests, Medellin is evolving and has proven itself to be a model of social and urban transformation. The city owes its development to the collective co-creation amongst its citizens, public and private organizations. The presence of this transdisciplinary interaction has led to increased levels of community engagement. Emerging from this partnership is an image of a resilient Medellin, one with goals of safety, equity, and sustainability.
- Referred to as the ‘Corredores Verdes,’ Medellin’s Green Corridor initiative was designed to interconnect 30 green corridors within the city that has a host of widespread benefits. The corridors go beyond heat reduction, by improving biodiversity (serving as a home to new ecosystems), sequestering carbon dioxide emissions, and reducing air pollution.
- Sustainable Transportation: The city has the largest electric fleet in Colombia. Vehicles, like electric trams and cable cars, create sustainable connections all over the city, including between impoverished areas and the city centers. Medellin is aiming to be an eco-city and initiatives like these gear it closer to the goal. The city was also awarded the sustainable transport award by the UN.
3. Auckland, New Zealand
As one of the most liveable cities in the world, Auckland continues to find ways to create exceptional strategies that result in the city’s transformation. There is an emphasis placed on eco-design and energy efficiency. For example, the city provides readily available resources to assist the community to make smart choices and reduce waste–whether home or business. Unique to Auckland is its reconnection with its indigenous population and natural systems. In an effort to create diverse and inclusive community engagement, a Māori design leader, Phil Wohongi, was appointed in an aim to foster the integration of identity and culture in Auckland. The city’s outreach includes speaking and listening to various community members and taking action. In regards to natural systems, Auckland has taken up many projects that include the redevelopment of waterfronts and biophilic practices.
- Organic Link at Te Wananga, in Waitematā Harbor: A ferry basin area at Waitematā, suffers from polluted waters. The Auckland Council created a unique natural solution to this issue through the addition of ropes of mussels to the underside of the public outdoor space. Mussels are known to be capable of removing pollutants and are exceptional at filtering seawater. The project illustrates solutions that can be implemented from Māori practices.
- Te Auaunga Awa Restoration (Biophilia in Auckland): it is common to find varying levels of biophilia in Auckland in an effort to increase biodiversity and stormwater management, ranging from green roofs to natural parks. The Te Auaunga Awa (Oakley Creek) project was an upgrade for better flooding and stormwater management. It involved the naturalization of the previous concrete-lined waterway. The upgrades have led to a lush park with a meandering stream and an increase in social, healthy interaction at the Creek.
4. Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo is the cultural, political, and economic center of Uruguay. The city is committed to the welfare of its citizens by placing an emphasis on human rights and sustainability. Montevideo is actively implementing the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda. The city has developed a number of strategic plans for development and tackling social, economic, and environmental vulnerability. In 2016, Montevideo was listed as a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network. A Resilience Executive Unit was established then, to create and deliver a Resilience Strategy by 2018. The Strategy involved regenerative placemaking approaches like inclusivity, co-creation environmental commitments. Beyond this, Montevideo, and Uruguay as a whole, have taken up other projects to constantly improve agricultural and energy systems.
- Renewable Energy: Uruguay is one of the leading countries in renewable energy and is making exceptional headway to be carbon neutral by 2030. 98% of the country’s power is from renewable sources. The Country has also found ways to utilize the biomass produced from agricultural industries to generate electricity.
- Agricultural Systems: The Country has also found effective ways to conserve the natural forests, habitats, and biodiversity. There has also been an integration of smart technologies into the agricultural systems making it possible for “agro-intelligent” agriculture in Uruguay.
Ultimately, what we can learn from these identified cities are the huge role nature, technology, and the community plays. The effectiveness of natural solutions to environmental challenges is evident. We can look to nature as an energy resource, and utilize its cooling and filtration properties. There is also the benefit of equipping the built environment with smart tools for energy measurement and efficiency. All these tactics depend on community engagement. It is important for the community, not just to understand these principles, but also to be involved in them, so that implementation and necessary lifestyle changes will be welcomed.
There are many other cities that are implementing regenerative placemaking principles in an effort to create healthy and sustainable environments; It is only a matter of time before we start seeing the effect of these changes.
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