Vegetation growing wild around man-made structures

+ Adapting to the future, let nature in and live with nature

It’s time to reconsider all our assumptions about urban planning. It’s my belief that the urban planning process needs a new, overarching direction if it’s going to solve the problems we face now and those we’ll face in the future. Challenges such as climate change, resource depletion and our rapidly expanding population can’t be met through existing planning approaches.

For instance, in my opinion, current urban planning systems don’t give adequate consideration to the end-users of the future. Too often they focus on meeting short-term objectives, and they’re often driven by political and commercial requirements rather than the needs of citizens 20 or 30 years from now.

Planning isn’t just about just providing the right buildings. It’s also about enabling the flow of people and goods and ensuring everyone has access to water, drainage and sanitation, as well as security. A good planning system also makes the most of advances in technology, such as smart cities, and builds in social resilience.

Smart Green Resilient (SGR) thinking factors in non-tangible systems such as governance and studies their interaction with tangible systems like infrastructure, utilities and buildings. In this way we can combine multiple objectives into a single, clear planning objective. SGR links human factors, smart city principles, sustainable development and resilience together to make the most of our resources and find the optimum solution. 

Take the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant on Japan’s east coast, for example. Nuclear power is often viewed as a ‘green’ solution to our energy needs because it generates far less carbon dioxide emissions than a gas, oil or coal-fired power station. But in the face of a tsunami, a nuclear plant was not resilient. So what’s the best way to make cities green and resilient? An SGR approach can answer this question.  

It’s an approach that’s already being used to develop new cities and improve existing ones. For example, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, the government wanted to create an ‘aerotropolis’ – a regional economic hub centred on the airport. This new airport-centric city had to be sustainable, support innovative industries, maintain its own cultural and scenic identity, and conform with existing land use. 

By turning the usual planning model for this kind of development on its head and using SGR to address a larger context in a continuous landscape, the project team was able to make the best use of public investment. Compared with a traditional approach, SGR thinking can realise the full social and economic potential of the area; conserve its waterways; improve the capacity of the transport network and even improve the health and wellbeing of people living in the area.

I believe that an SGR approach to urban planning holds the key to developing sustainable, technologically advanced cities that work for all their inhabitants. It’s time we applied this kind of holistic architecture to move urban planning into the 21st century.