What Will the Cities of the Future Look Like?

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. The degree to which we consume natural resources, energy and land today determines how we will live in ten, thirty or fifty years. Cities play a key role in climate protection. The United Nations predict that in 2050, 68 percent of the global population will live in urban areas.

● © Chris Barbalis | Unsplash

Big challenges, bigger opportunities

● © Jacek Dylag | Unsplash

As cities continue to grow, so do the challenges they face:

  • Cities consume almost 80 percent of global energy resources.
  • Cities are responsible for 60 to 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they are particularly affected by global warming (e.g. because of rising temperatures and heat stress, rising sea levels, storm tides, and extreme weather events).
  • Growing numbers of inhabitants are met by a decreasing availability of affordable living space. Until 2030, 250 million new housing units need to be built in the twelve countries that are home to more than 61 percent of the entire global population.

At the same time, our cities also provide the greatest potential for climate protection. However, there are regional differences. Unlike in Asia and Africa, which will see the largest urban growth in the coming decades, cities in industrialised countries such as Germany, are largely developed. Here, the most urgent need lies in optimising existing urban structures and in raising awareness about sustainable construction and building renovation.

The Solar Decathlon Europe 21 (SDE21) aims to do just that. Until now, the Solar Decathlon aimed to demonstrate the possibilities of using renewable energies in new buildings. The SDE21, for the first time, addresses the urban reality of inhabited buildings. Our goal: develop technically, architecturally and socially appropriate solutions for the European cities of tomorrow.

● © Jacek Dylag | Unsplash

‘Our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.’

● Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

Building the Housing of the Future

Our motto is therefore to convert and expand rather than to demolish and reconstruct. Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings has less environmental impact than constructing comparable buildings from scratch. This is because the construction industry contributes significantly to resource and energy consumption. It is responsible for about 30 percent of global CO₂ emissions and 40 percent of overall resource consumption.

The teams of the SDE21 will therefore address three contemporary building tasks: renovation and extension, closing gaps, and addition of storey. Basing their projects on existing building stock, infrastructure, and socio-economic conditions found in Wuppertal’s neighbourhood Mirke district or in a neighbourhood in their own country, teams will develop adapted yet reproducible models for the urban energy transition.

Urban energy transition – what does that mean?

40 percent of the EU’s energy consumption is accounted for by existing building stock. Approximately 75 percent of the buildings in the EU are not energy efficient, with existing buildings being the largest culprits of energy consumption. Furthermore, 64 percent of residential buildings in Germany were built before 1979. The German government aims to achieve near climate-neutrality of building stock by 2050. This means that the overall energy consumption of buildings needs to decrease by 80 percent relative to consumption levels from 2008.

It is clear that the opportunities for urban energy transition need to be explored here and now. Together, we need to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption. Achieving this goal will only be possible with joint effort from all agents in society including the scientific community, administrative agencies, policy makers, and the citizens themselves.

Urban energy transition – what does that mean?

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SDE21: Solutions for the cities of tomorrow

The SDE21 not only aims to educate but also to inspire people about urban energy transition. Our research accompanying and extending the SDE21 strongly relies on the active involvement of citizens: Taking Mirke district as an example, the Urban Research Team of the SDE21 investigates how local residents may get involved in urban climate protection and in promoting the transition towards renewable energies. Conducted in close cooperation with local agents, this research provides invaluable insights into the city of Wuppertal as well as potential solutions for the contemporary urban challenges it faces.

If, in the future, we want to have sustainable, climate-friendly and social cities that are worth living in, we need to lay the groundwork today. Let’s start now! 

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