We are the architects of the urban world 

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I have been an avid watcher of David Attenborough’s TV series Planet Earth for a while and last Sunday’s Finale episode of the series was, without exception one of the best.

The documentary series explores how animals meet the challenges of surviving in the most iconic habitats on earth. This particular episode focused on ‘cities’ and the fact that they are growing at a faster rate than any other habitat on Earth.

We get an insight into how animals struggle to cope in the urban jungle – from the leopards roaming the streets of Mumbai, hyenas coexisting with humans in Ethiopia, to the plight of the hatchling turtles who, Sir Attenborough soberly reminds us,

“Is one of the countless species that has been unable to adapt to the change brought about by the Urban Environment”

What I really love about this show is how Sir Attenborough truly excels in giving his viewers a fascinating insight into the world we live in based on well-documented facts.

For example, did you know that every ten years, an area the size of Britan disappears underneath a jungle of concrete?

Quite the statement when you really look into this, especially even more poignant when you start to consider the effect this could potentially have on the environment around us.

Urbanisation is something which is very much real

According to a 2014 study by the united nations, rural living is in decline. Whilst this shift is actively bringing Environmental, economic and cultural benefits,  it is clearly obvious that within these increasingly dense urban areas, proper infrastructure aimed to keep pace with, and sustain such rapid development is needed.

Quite rightly, sustainable growth is a topic which is at the heart of urban development concerns.

But it doesn’t have to be this way…

Although the pressure to build within Urban spaces is strong, there is also a very real need for green spaces.

Cities can work more in harmony with nature, and this was demonstrated with the amazing images of Stefano Boeri’s verticle forest in Milan which has 2 hectares of woodland occupying just one tenth of an area on the side of a tower block.

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This clearly shows how conservationists and Architects are working together to squeeze more green space within our increasingly crowded urban landscape.

From the designers: “The creation of a number of vertical forests in the city will be able to create a network of environmental corridors which will give life to the main parks in the city, bringing the green space of avenues and gardens and connecting various spaces of spontaneous vegetation growth. [This project] helps to build a micro-climate and to filter dust particles which are present in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants helps to create humidity, and absorb CO2 and dust, produces oxygen, protects people and houses from the suns rays and from acoustic pollution.”

find out more about the project

Singapore is also, without a doubt, one city embracing sustainable development and cleverly utilising smart design to meet the needs of rapid urbanisation.

When discussing the finale episode in a recent article, Planet Earth 2 producer Fredi Devas commented,

“There are some cities that are making a real effort to invite wildlife back into their city. And Singapore has the highest biodiversity of any city in the world. What really attracted me to Singapore was the ethos of building a city within a garden — the idea that Gardens By The Bay, for example, has been built before the skyscrapers that are going to be built around it … I think we’re really championing city greening in a futuristic way.”

Sustainable Singapore

Home to over 5.5 million people Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world – but according to the Green City Index, it is also deemed as the greenest city in Asia and arguably has few competitors in the rest of the world.

With an eye on the future, it has transformed itself into one of the world’s most sustainable cities, realising the economic necessity of going green. Singapore has successfully implemented a sophisticated catalogue of urban solutions securing the city a top 10 ranking on ARCADIS’ most sustainable cities list. Terri Wills, CEO of World Green Building Council, recently said,

“Singapore can certainly be considered a leader in the field of green building.  The city target for 80 per cent of buildings to achieve BCA Green Mark standards by 2030 is ambitious but achievable”

Milian and Singapore have shown us that it is possible to embrace sustainable development and they seem to have cleverly incorporated design, technology, architecture and sustainability into one complete package.

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The great news is that other cities across the world are starting to follow,  here’s just a few things cities are doing to become more sustainable.

  • Striking a Balance Between Urban and Green Space
  • Eco-friendly transportation regulations
  • Becoming a Smarter City
  • Controlling water and waste management
  • Having a commitment to ‘green’ planning

In such  a rapidly changing world, the message rings clear, as the programme concludes with the penultimate question from Sir Attenborough

“As the architects of these environments can humans choose to build cities that are homes for both homes for both them and wildlife?”

We have the power to shape our cities to benefit us, wildlife and the environment around us, after all, we are the Architects of the Urban world.

The Cities episode and the rest of the series are available on the BBC Website.