Cities of The Future: Integrating Climate Planning and Smart Technologies



In 2012, the economic cost of climate change related damages had already topped the US government’s spending for transportation and education. The human toll and economic costs will increase over time, especially in cities where the density of population and the value of assets, such as buildings and infrastructure, are higher.  Investing in climate adaptation is necessary to safeguard our most vulnerable communities, and it is our only insurance against disasters.

Meanwhile, the potential to reduce our impact on the environment is mostly located in urban landscapes. Urban responses to climatic change is now a hot topic, and later this month in Los Angeles the U.S. and China will participate in high level talks centered on climate-smart cities. It will take place in mid-September 2015 and will help build momentum for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations later this year.

Specific Examples of City Resilience

Recent developments have stimulated discussions on urban resilience to climate change impacts. For example, Amsterdam has been dealing with floods and tides for centuries, and it is now moving forward with its multi-layered strategy to adapt to rising sea levels and other climate change impacts. The EU as a whole is planning to adapt, and the latest Resilience Cities Congress (held in Bonn) revealed that there is much cooperation among local governments in Europe. Global examples were also showcased to foster information exchange in different social and environmental contexts, including cities in Mozambique, the United States, and South Africa.

In the U.S, one city that is taking climate challenges seriously is New Orleans, which is finding inspiration in Amsterdam’s resilience plan. The main idea here is that the city can manage rising sea levels within its borders, not only by keeping the water out of its levee system . In fact, the plan features a network of rain gardens, bioswales, and canals within the city neighborhoods. More broadly, when discussing urban resilience, a lot of the strategies should put nature and ecosystem services at center-stage of the resilience process. Urban forestry, habitat restoration, and ecological buffer zones can go a long way to adapt to increasing floods, droughts, urban heat island effect, and storm surges. The appropriate mix of solutions all depend on the urban design, socio-economic conditions, native environment, and the specific risks that each city has.

From the Trust for Public Lands website

Defining Climate-Resilient Cities

Taking a step back and trying to define what a “climate-smart city” should do, the Trust for Public Land makes a comprehensive argument for action. It calls for cities to connect (for more walkability), cool (with green rooftops and parks), absorb (for storm water management), and protect (i.e., against rising sea levels, floods or droughts). Similarly, the Resilient City project defines a resilient city as “… one that has developed capacities to help absorb future shocks and stresses to its social, economic, and technical systems and infrastructures so as to still be able to maintain essentially the same functions, structures, systems, and identity.” Absorbing shocks and maintaining functions cannot be done without allowing redundancies (and here) in same cases. Certain infrastructures may turn out useful in specific circumstances, while in average conditions are unsustainable. For example, fuel generators and coal power plants may be desperately needed as backup options in case the grid cannot supply enough renewable energy.

The Mitigation Side

Having in mind that city resilience may also be non-green, any smart city should consider synergies, contrasts, and overlaps between adapting and mitigating. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure has developed a comprehensive rating system that encourages local institutions and authorities to think holistically about these issues. Planning for a smart city should also integrate strategies to mitigate impacts on the environment and climate. In fact, while adapting is of major importance to survive and thrive, a climate-smart city will need to combat climate change at its source. And here is where renewable energy production, buildings efficiency, sustainable transportation, and other features are relevant. Technology and businesses need to play an important role as investments are made and innovation is fostered.

Smart Cities and the Role of Business

As we defined climate-resilient cities, what do we mean by “smart cities”? The Smart City   defines smart cities as cities with “digital technology embedded across all city functions”. Furthermore, “[t]hese cities will use the power of ubiquitous communication networks, highly distributed wireless sensor technology, and intelligent management systems to solve current and future challenges and create exciting new services.”. Said in a more practical way, “[I]magine if our cities could talk—if they could give us live status updates on traffic patterns, pollution, parking spaces, water, power and light.”

The services and technologies that a smart city requires are parts of a vast, multi-stakeholder commitment – and this is why many companies are increasingly dedicating efforts increasingly dedicating efforts and business lines to clean technology The areas with the most excitement include smart grids (e.g. smart metering and demand response), sustainable (with Malmo, Sweden hailed as a pioneer), and the Internet of Things. In fact, big data management and the interconnectedness of people, places, and needs will become the core of an all-encompassing strategy for any smart city. CISCO is engaging in this space by Similarly, Siemens is investing into its City Intelligence Platform, and Schneider Electric has hundreds of projects in dozens of major cities worldwide. Its engagements span from multimodal transportation and water distribution system in Dallas to Rio de Janeiro’s Intelligent Operation System that provides a holistic view of different systems of the city.


From Schneider Electric website

Navigant Research, a research firm, has positioned IBM at the top of its ranking among all suppliers of smart city intelligence – and therefore one of the most impactful actors. The company established the Smarter Cities Challenge, engaging with local governments worldwide and driving innovations through the use of technology and data analysis. The list of “smart” businesses continues to grow as the overall market is rapidly expanding to the point where the industry as a whole may be worth as much as $1.5 trillion, according to Frost & Sullivan, a consultancy.

The goals of these investments are to identify where a city’s inefficiencies lie and to apply knowledge in, for example, optimized traffic management, energy and water use, waste, and more. These involve high tech solutions to measure, assess, and then re-direct resources intelligently. Specific tangible applications are multifarious and influence many city functions.

There is also a lot of support from the federal government and nonprofit actors. , a non-profit collaborating with several high-tech companies, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science Foundation, has the mandate to initiate and deploy innovations in six national priorities, including energy and transportation. The momentum generated by this group has spurred some interesting new business applications.

  • For instance, Siemens is currently developing an adaptive Demand Response solution with an integrated battery storage capacity. It is designed for commercial buildings and will benefit the grid (with less load) while reducing the rate payer costs.
  • In Newark, DE, the public-private partnership Chesapeake Crescent Initiative is outlining recommendations for the city’s infrastructures to become more resilient. This became a priority in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and it is focused on improving the city’s livability, efficiency, and connectivity.
  • An overarching sustainability plan is being implemented in Charlotte, NC, focusing on four key areas: water, energy, waste, and air. Through near real time energy metering and consequent identification of inefficiencies, downtown buildings are forecasted to use 20% less energy by 2020.

These are only few examples, but there are many other applications listed on US Ignite website. Moreover, the non-profit is collaborating with other government agencies for the Global City Teams Challenge, which encourages local communities to partner with public and private organizations. With such emerging solutions, there is a huge potential to avoid future CO2 emissions.

What is Happening in the Washington, DC Metro Area?

The District of Columbia is considered one of the “smartest” cities in the U.S. and boasts a high proportion of commuters who use public transportation. Thanks to the interactive way of gathering information from city dwellers, the city demonstrates a transparent way of managing its assets and services. Data is collected from various social media outlets.

Moreover, the city will host the upcoming Smart Cities Week from September 15-17, where integrated technologies to boost the workability, sustainability, and livability of a city will be showcased. Montgomery County, north of DC, also has a lot of innovations in progress in the areas of open data management and interconnectedness. At the Leaders in Energy event on September 15th we will hear about local and the global developments in smart city solutions.

On October 8-10th, Leaders in Energy will be partnering with the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) Virginia Tech, College of Natural Resources and Environment in their Climate Exploratorium.  The Leaders in Energy panel on October 8th will focus on topics surrounding green infrastructure.  More information on both of these events is located on the Leaders in Energy website at:

Armando is a volunteer for Leaders in Energy where it supports the group’s marketing activities and events. He is passionate about environmental policy, socio-ecological interactions, and international development. The charming call of travelling has led him to live in a number of countries. He gained his M.Sc. in Global Environmental Change Management at the University of Eberswalde, Germany.

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