How National Government Inaction On Climate Crisis Has Made Cities & Architects Rise To The Occasion

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The Beam

By Anna Siwecka

“It’s quite sad that it takes this crisis to bring out people in this way. You would have been much better to have people of our generation really pushing for it. To see the young people coming out in such force and such passion – it’s really telling, isn’t it? How critical of a time this is right now.”

Listen to the full interview with Daniel Ringelstein on The Beam Podcast, Episode 2: How to Build Sustainable Cities of The Future.

More often than you would think, Daniel Ringelstein’s work is a story of collaboration. As the leader of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) City Design Practice in London, he directs urban regeneration projects. SOM is a collective of architects, designers, engineers, and planners focused on “building a better future.” Building city landscapes which serve for the future often requires paying attention to more compact urban growth, citizens’ well-being and striving for carbon neutrality, especially in the face of the climate emergency.

A city in balance with nature. Xiong’ An, China — Image: TLS in association with SOM

In the interview for the latest episode of The Beam Podcast – How to Build Sustainable Cities of the Future, Daniel Ringelstein reflects on why cities play a crucial part in addressing climate change and why interdisciplinary collaboration in the times of the global climate crisis may bring needed results.

When we think about future cities, I would like to refer to your recent article The Fight Against Climate Change Starts in Cities. Why is that? 

Daniel Ringelstein: I believe, and many of my colleagues are with me on this, that cities are the places where the greatest forces of change are currently in operation. And even though cities may only occupy less than 2% of the Earth’s surface today, we also know that cities really account for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, I think, if we can solve issues at the city scale, we’re actually going to have our biggest bang for our buck in terms of planetary health.

Cities are also going to be under the most pressure going forward. The U.N. has set out their understanding that the world population which can reach over 10 billion people by 2050, two-thirds of that population will live in cities. So, I think we cannot ignore the impact that’s going to have. It’s really our imperative, our absolute imperative to understand what this is going to mean and what impact the cities will have in the future on climate change. I think architects are rising to the occasion.

The U.N. Habitat has established that over the next 20 years, 80 billion square meters of either newly built or reused, repurposed buildings will be constructed. That’s almost 60% of the entire building stock in the world. So, the architects put primarily in the United States and in Europe have rallied around this idea and the American Institute of Architects 2030 Commitment which has challenged all architects to get to some sort of carbon neutrality by 2030 and all their buildings.

But I think it needs to go well beyond buildings. I mean, that’s a great start. That’s an amazing, important step. Don’t get me wrong but I think as designers we also need to think about the larger scale from building to street to the neighborhood, district, city, region. So, if we rally together on this front we can promote things like smart growth, re-intensifying our existing city environments. That’s a really strong step to read up and reuse things we already have infrastructures already in place when we’re dealing with new city environments.

Would you say that there is more responsibility to distribute when we think about the people living in the cities – the mayors, the citizens, the local groups and so on? 

Daniel Ringelstein: We’re seeing it happen already, I think. In the United States, there’s the group of mayors that have gotten together. There is the C40 Cities initiative that was launched by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, a few years ago.

I think a lot of the mayors are getting frustrated with the national governments that have been unable to really act on climate change on a national scale so they’re taking things into their own hands and they’re sharing lessons learned or sharing war stories or challenge during challenges. And they’re getting together quite frequently. So, I think the mayors have got it. They understand that they can have a huge impact. And I think also we’re seeing grassroots now with younger people coming together. I mean, just look at Greta [Thunberg]. It’s quite sad that it takes this crisis to bring out people in this way. And it’s you would have been much better to have people of our generation really pushing for it. To see the young people coming out in such force and such passion – it’s really telling, isn’t it? That how critical of a time this is right now.

In How to Build Sustainable Cities of the Future, we also talk with Carola Hein, Professor and Head of the Chair History of Architecture and Urban Planning at Delft University of Technology, and with Chloé Pahud, Co-founder and CEO of Civocracy.

Listen to The Beam Podcast, Episode 2: How to Build Sustainable Cities of the Future.

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The Beam

The Beam Magazine is an independent climate solutions and climate action magazine. It tells about the most exciting solutions, makes a concrete contribution to eliminating climate injustices and preserving this planet for all of us in its diversity and beauty. Our cross-country team of editors works with a network of 150 local journalists in 50 countries talking to change makers and communities. THE BEAM is published in Berlin and distributed in nearly 1,000 publicly accessible locations, to companies, organizations and individuals in 40 countries across the world powered by FairPlanet.

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