The Covid19 pandemic has exposed in many ways the flaws and limitation of our existing city designs. While lockdown measures have shown how liveable cities can be with less congestion and noise, they have also demonstrated the inflexibility of urban areas. The inability to work and socialize safely has rendered many city centres empty. While a lack of access to green spaces in residential zones has caused a sense of claustrophobia. A new report by the London Transport Museum, that PTV Group was involved with, now explores what’s necessary to ensure the long-term success of sustainable cities.

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. By 2030, 43 global megacities will be home to around 10 million people each. And while cities are one of the biggest contributors to our economic health, they are one of the biggest detractors from our environmental health. Cities consume over 65% of the world’s energy and they produce more than 70% of its CO2 emissions.  It’s clear and unmissable that radical change is needed, to protect not only the environment but also the people.

Sam Mullins OBE, Director of London Transport Museum explains: “The pandemic has been a defining moment in modern history, exposing limitations to the way we currently create and use our city spaces. Coupled with an impending climate emergency, it is clear we need to act quickly to rethink our vision of sustainable cities. Now is the time to take these learnings and apply them to transport, infrastructure and city-making projects before it is too late, creating value for the people who live in our cities now and in the future.”

This is precisely where the new “Rethinking Sustainable Cities” report comes in. The study draws on digital roundtable discussions with industry leaders, policymakers and academics throughout 2020 as part of Interchange, London Transport Museum’s thought leadership program. Another element was a survey with the intention to explore how people’s attitude to how the pandemic experience may alter their view and way of living in the future.

Blueprint for inclusive and sustainable city design

One of the main conclusions of the authors of the report, is that creating sustainable cities is not only about cutting emissions. To ensure a long-term success climate protection and economic growth need to go hand in hand with equality and social inclusion. The authors suggest the creation of a new unified blueprint for inclusive and environmentally sustainable city design which can be localised or replicated at scale. It should include the following aspects:

  • Redefining value to prioritise wellbeing and inclusion – For a green recovery to be successful, public and private sectors must commit to building and designing our cities inclusively. Cities have diverse populations, and extremes of poverty and wealth can therefore exist in relatively close proximity. The pandemic has made the divide between these two groups, and the way our infrastructure contributes to it, even more apparent. There are lots of opportunities to use investment in technology, infrastructure and built environment to ‘level-up’ poorer areas. Investing in less ‘desirable’ and often overlooked areas would improve value perception and promise fair and sustainable growth long-term. But to achieve this, a shift in how we evaluate projects is needed. In a sustainable city, e.g. a successful road-building project wouldn’t just be measured by immediate cost and benefit – but relieved congestion, better air quality, improved health and environmental change across the whole life of the project.
  • Educating and empowering individuals to change their behaviours – Cities are ultimately a product of people who live in them. Community engagement is essential to the long-term viability of sustainable cities and must start early in the development process. It is vital to educate and empower people to understand the long-term benefits of sustainable infrastructure projects, verses short term disruption. Plus: if individuals are personally contributing to positive change, they should personally profit from it, too. At a consumer level, new social digital currencies could be an option. A tool that allows people to understand and change their behaviour could also reward them for doing so.
  • Overhauling institutional governance to encourage new ways of working – Policy decisions have the power to change behaviour at every level. But more urgency is needed to drive us rapidly away from business as usual. The success of the plastic bag tax proves people are willing to make changes when it is made easy for them. In Norway a zero-purchase tax, VAT and road tax on electric vehicles, has driven uptake of electric vehicles to the extent that sales in 2020 amounted to 54% of total car sales. By offering clearer taxation and pricing incentives, policymakers can make inclusive and sustainable options more attractive and widely available.

Paul Speirs, who has been involved in the “Rethinking Sustainable Cities” project is convinced that mobility is at the heart of every successful city and will play a key role on the way to the sustainable, inclusive city of the future: “Mobility defines how well connected the population is. History shows the resilience of organically grown cities, beginning as trading hubs and enlarged by increasing commerce, the industrial revolution and the advent of the railways. The car centric dominance has in some way ripped through our cities, but peeling back the layers, the framework for the ‘15-minute city’ remains. People need to meet, mix and trade. It’s in our genes. For many, the pandemic gave a glimpse of the lost neighbourhoods and posed a reminder that the presence and free movement of people create vibrancy and vitality. With a careful blend of mobility and land use planning, a sprawling city can be reimagined and reconnected as a collection of thriving and sustainable urban villages.”

About the Rethinking Sustainable Cities report

The report is produced by London Transport Museum and the leading technical and professional services firm Jacobs in partnership with the international law firm Gowling WLG, global transportation company Thales, and mobility and logistics software solutions business PTV Group.

Download the full report:


Smart tools for sustainable cities

PTV software enables cities to understand their mobility ecosystem and shape it in a more sustainable and inclusive way.

Leave a Reply