Urbanization is steadily growing: will we manage to cope with its impact?
A higher-than-average concentration of people, buildings, capitals and opportunities make cities the future of the European continent. Cities provide employment for 62% of the population and “feature unique cultural and architectural qualities, strong efforts for social inclusion and exceptional potentials for economic development”.
However, being places with great potentials, they also show many paradoxes: they are engines generating growth but also threatened by criminality, pollution and congested traffic; they offer comfortable and inclusive life styles but also face poverty and social alienation.
The trend towards a sustainable management
In Europe, there isn’t a single development model followed by all country members, but there is a clear and shared trend towards a sustainable management of urban living (sustainability has been included in the Europe 2020 Strategy). In less than a decade, interventions originally undertaken as local experiments have eventually turned into many different reproducible models, which share some basic elements. Thanks to the availability of various applications, a greater precision in data exchange and a higher speed in spreading good practices, the interventions aimed at a smarter development and a “green” growth have significantly increased. Furthermore, there has been a growing attention for social inclusion and citizenship involvement, promoting a sort of “rush towards innovation”, which brought 16 European cities among the foremost positions in the world ranking of the 2016 Sustainable Cities Index (Arcadis).
The support provided by new technologies and smart cities
Talking about sustainability in an urban context implies specific features such as the eco-friendly management of urban waste and public transport, and other related issues such as the preservation of historic town centres and adaptation strategies to climate change. Indeed, the use of constantly-updated technologies facilitated the creation of smart cities across the continent: Amsterdam and Barcelona represent well-known examples while Essen, in Germany (in the highlight photo), recently joined in after winning the 2017 European Green Capital Award.
The challenge of skills
In front of this reassuring picture of sustainable urban management, it comes natural to wonder whether Europe is going to hold enough professionals ready to cope with the planning of technologies, processes and infrastructures and their necessary updating. If we consider the high level of technologies involved, the presently available profiles do not appear adequate. They lack of skills and their training is often inadequate despite the efforts made in terms of labour policies.
However, what appears evident is a widespread awareness among citizens, who often feel involved and partake in change processes promoted by their cities. In the meanwhile, while waiting to see more effective labour policies, many of us take advantage of the high sustainable growth rate to control in real time the position of the train they are meant to take, to buy lunch at a local farmer market, or to cycle to work on a cycling path which, simply by being ridden, produces energy for the city.