Smarter Cities

How Green Urban Design Lowers Risk Of Climate Change Disaster

Saving rainwater and increasing green spaces are two small steps shown to help fight the ravages of climate change in cities.

A park in green Bogota
A park in green Bogota
Maria Monica Monsalve

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ â€" Cities of the future may turn out to be friendlier, cleaner places than the desolate dumps science fiction films have been depicting in anticipation. A range of initiatives being taken around the world â€" some apparently of little importance, others bigger in scope â€" are already steering the urban future away from worst-case scenarios. Your children and grandchildren may end up avoiding the world of Mad Max or Blade Runner.

Certainly, cities are grappling with air pollution, massive trash generation and heaving population numbers. But many are also working on becoming more sustainable.

Susana Vélez-Haller, a forestry expert with the World Wildlife Fund, says cities are a paradox right now, requiring so many resources yet producing so little. Cities, she says, generate little other than "a lot of waste. The idea is to change that."

As centers of economic activity, cities are a magnet for people. Since 2008, the majority of the world's population lives in cities, and as a recent UN Habitat report indicates, this majority will become a third of all people by 2050.

That makes cities key to mitigating climate change and contributing to public health, food security and global welfare. "When we speak of sustainability," Vélez says, "one thinks of territorial planning, development, economy, efficient energy use, waste," and anything else that can be managed well enough to avoid the Mad Max scenario.

Green facade in Bogota â€" Photo: Juan Sarasua

So what can we do today to make cities amenable? One solution is green architecture and buildings that take their environment into account. Respecting the environment is "understanding that you are building in an existing ecosystem, which has its own conditions," says David Perico, head of Arquitectura Más Verde, a construction and landscape architecture firm. "That means exploiting the natural elements nearby, like favoring penetration of natural light depending on where the windows are, looking at wind to produce energy, and considering which building fronts can be used to gain or lose heat, depending on the climate."

A big winner in recent years has been the vertical garden. They provide thermal isolation on building sides and reduce the intensity of city "heat islands." A temperature difference between city centers and their peripheries is normal, says Perico. "While the city center is lukewarm at night and the periphery cold, this changes in the day," he says. "So these green walls can't just be thought of as another domestic technology but as a holistic, collaborative and social tool for the city."

Green walls return to nature a bit of the space taken from it by the city, provide a stop-off point or temporary shelter for migrating birds, capture pollutants and contribute to the welfare of residents on many levels.

No more floods?

Flooding and reuse of water are other issues modern and future cities must manage correctly. Runoff rainwater flowing into the drains from roofs or tarmac usually isn't treated, though it contains particles and synthetic material. "This is not just a flooding risk," says Juan Pablo Rodríguez, a civil engineering lecturer at Andes University in Bogotá. "It also has a major and negative environmental impact on rivers."

A response to this is for cities to have more filtering spaces such as soil and greenery, where water can gradually seep into the dirt. Soil and vegetation reduce flooding risks and act as filters for the water. Rodríguez says a study by his university has shown that runoff water from rooftop greenery is pH neutral, while green roofs also retain most rainwater through dry periods, and about 10% to 30% in winter.

Use of runoff water is elementary in Colombia, he says, but in places like the United Kingdom and Australia, systems have been devised to guide runoff toward areas of trees, where it is effectively stored. He observes that low-lying areas in urban parks can function as stores for use when water is more scarce, and suggests homes start using tanks to store the rainwater that pours onto their roofs.

Biodiversity returns to Colombian cities

The country's enormous range of fauna and flora is beginning to be explored for urban sustainability. "Colombia has been considering biodiversity strategies for 20 years now, though above all in rural areas and national parks," says María Angélica Mejía, a researcher at Humboldt Institute. Biodiversity provides such "services" as assuring the presence of pollinating agents in the garden or even aiding food security through city farming. This cannot be an obstacle in Colombia, she says, where so many country people have had to move into cities and have "harvesting in their genes."

Green spaces of any kind â€" be they forest segments or artificially created â€" are a crucial component of sustainable cities, she points out. "We have to have a green area within a five-minute walk," says Mejía, and any type of parkland can "supplement eco-systemic needs and contribute to our welfare."

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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