So far zero-carbon aspirational cities are sustainable architecture dreamlands, with difficulties to appropriately serve the lives and industries of their inhabitants. But it seems if anyone is going to do this right, it could be a Scandinavian project, and where better than sustainability-conscious Denmark who pioneered large-scale wind energy?
The two forerunning zero-carbon zeronaut cities are Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and Dongton in China. Both of these cities are reminiscent of the Jetsons' future utopia cartoon and both are located beside carbon-emitting mega-money megalopolises, Dubai and Shanghai respectively.
Both are largely a showcase to the marvels of new renewables technologies and awe-inspiring sustainable building materials, and both have been questioned as to how much they mitigate climate change or adapt to climate change pressures.
Norman Foster of the Gherkin (London) and Reichstag (Berlin) fame is behind the design and planning of Masdar City. The Dongton sustainable super city was built beside the Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve, a wetlands area; which has raised much criticism and speculation as to its effects on the surrounding environment.
Is such design enough when the effects of climate change have already hit many communities worldwide?
In 2011 catastrophic rains burst over Copenhagen, with the run-off and flooding resulting in about $1 billion of damages. Climate change cities need should not only be not about slick architects showing off their dreams, since this is a need for cities to protect themselves against adverse weather. Following this 2011 storm in St. Kjeld, a Copenhagen neighbourhood, has built a rainwater masterplan.
Rainwater is only a problem if it goes where you don’t want it to go. “Adding sewers is insanely costly, so a green-and-blue [vegetation and water] approach is more economical,” says sustainability analyst Esben Alslund-Lanthén, There was just one challenge: No city has ever tried climate-change-adapting a whole neighbourhood using just plants and water.
Of course, climate change mitigation is better for the long-term, than climate change adaptation. But at least St. Kjeld’s rainwater masterplan is sustainable in a way that it has social longevity with it truly serving the people of Copenhagen.
Clearly there are no climate-change city mitigation blueprints as each city’s topography, culture, weather, and budgets are very different. But there are many inspiring eco-solutions for energy, land-use, transportation, planting, and organic material use.
A giant ring in the main square will spray out a cooling mist on hot days, while excess water will be channelled along new cycle lanes that will double as storm drains, leading to canals and out to the harbour rather than into people's basements. The architects and local government hope the scheme will become a model for green urban planning and a showcase for climate adaptation technology.