The environment problem caused by cities may include some environment solutions for the planet.
For example, BedZED in Greater London represents a successful environmentally-friendly district although it failed on the socio-economic principles. (See Cities, problem or solution to the environment crisis? 1/2)
There is an area in Malmo which economical, social and ecological transformations have been conducted by its habitants. It is called Augustenborg. They recycle 70% of their waste thanks to waste sorting and composting facilities. Solar panels and geothermal energy is used. Transportation systems have been revisited to flourish public transport, biking and LPG-car sharing. And garden streets have been designed with speed limited to 15km/h. Jobs are also created within walking distance.
The environmental success is less spectacular than with BedZED but sustainable development is more global, including socio-economic principles.
It is easy to constantly criticize Europe. One thing is clear: projects and mentalities are moving in the right direction. But beware; competition is coming from the Middle East.
In 2016, next to Abu Dhabi airport, Masdar City will become the first fully sustainable city with zero carbon emission, renewable energy and zero waste. Three quadrilaterals hosting 50k habitant on a surface of 7km2 designed by Foster & Partners and assembled by a US building firm under the supervision of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company.
Electricity will come from integrated individual solar panels plus a solar central to capture peaks and wind turbines to benefit from night desert winds. Water from the sea will be desalted and wastes are to be fully recycled. No car will be allowed but 2,500 electric vehicles, bikes and Segway personal transports will be available together with an electric train crossing the whole city up to the Abu Dhabi international airport. Finally, inspired by Arabic ancestral know-how, streets are designed narrow to create shades and walls are high to escape hot desert winds.
One can ask about Masdar project economical viability with a budget of 22 USD billions and the November 09 financial crisis in Dubai nearby. I will question the social sustainability. Can there be social diversity in such an expensive place? Can such haven of peace have a personality, an atmosphere? At the contrary, I suspect habitants will sleep and work at Masdar City, but evade to Abu Dhabi for fun and real life. We know similar commuter towns: Brasilia with Rio, Islamabad with Rawalpindi, Canberra avec Sydney… Those are impressive references for urban planning, but not a model of sustainable lifestyle.
Building an environmentally-friendly village is some science and much money. Most countries can do it.
What about if our unique selling point, in Europe, was our dusty community behaviours and our condemned social-friendly principles?