This Monday and Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies are bringing together an incredible group of more than 300 global mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers for the second annual "CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges."
Many of these attendees are coming armed with bold, scalable ideas of their own. So we asked some of them to share one great idea that has worked in their city. Here are 10 inventive ideas that CityLab 2014 attendees from around the globe are putting into practice.
Seoul is a densely populated megalopolis with around 10 million people living within 236 square miles. It has a shortage of space for housing and parking and a high cost of living. During its past 30 years of growth, the city’s old neighborhoods have been dismantled and apartment complexes built in their place.
What is the key to solving Seoul’s urban problems? It lies in sharing. In September 2012, the city enacted the Seoul Metropolitan City Sharing Promotion Ordinance to support sharing activities. The city established institutional tools for this purpose, launching the Seoul Metropolitan City Sharing Committee, designating sharing enterprises, and opening ShareHub, an online portal that educates citizens about opportunities to participate in the Sharing City.
In 2014, the city spread its sharing projects to municipal districts. Over the past two years, Seoul City has worked to set up an institutional framework for a sharing economy. More than 300,000 users have registered for ‘Nanum-car,’ Seoul City’s car-sharing program. Smartphone applications have allowed sharing networks for goods to spread, such as those for children’s clothes, toys, and even day care. A program that allows elderly people to share a living space with university students has promoted welfare for the elderly living alone and resolved a housing problem for youth.
Seoul City is doing its best to save resources, improve life through sharing, and foster sharing as a way of life for its citizens.
Developed during the Bloomberg administration, NYC °CoolRoofs is a collaboration between NYC Service and the NYC Department of Buildings to facilitate the cooling of New York City’s rooftops. Applying a reflective surface to a roof helps reduce cooling costs, cut energy usage, and lower greenhouse gas emissions
The NYC °CoolRoofs initiative encourages building owners to cool their rooftops by applying highly reflective white paint. Coated roofs are as much as 75 degrees cooler on hot summer days than standard black tar roofs, reducing the amount of air conditioning needed for the rest of the building, the owner’s electricity bills, the City’s carbon emissions, and the urban heat island effect that makes NYC 5 to 7 degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside.
Mumbai is a city of contradictions. Its 13 million people are packed into 450 square kilometers. It is the financial capital of India, and despite adversity, the city displays great resilience. However, its public transport usage has fallen to 70 percent over the past decade while the number of cars and motorcycles is growing at 15 percent, leading to immense traffic congestion in all parts of the city.
Mumbai’s bus network consists of 4,000 buses, 2,000 bus stops, and 400 other routes crisscrossing the city. Several bus stops are used by 15 or more bus routes coming from and going to several destinations. These stops have only bus route numbers displayed at the stop, which can be very confusing. A year ago, the Mumbai Environmental Social Network, supported by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, undertook a plan to provide route maps at 250 popular bus stops showing the full routes. It was not easy to provide a legible map for citizens who are not used to reading maps, or to sway them to choose the bus over Mumbai’s 200,000 taxis and rickshaws.
We are now taking the two next steps: First is putting wayfinding maps at the new metro service stations across the city, which is used by 400,000 passengers every day. The maps will encourage people to walk to nearby destinations instead of taking a taxi. Second, we are developing a mobile app to provide real-time information on bus-arrival times.
We believe that these and other small but key initiatives will help stem congestion and pollution in our city.
Just a few years ago, there was little concern (and thus little attention) given to income disparity as a threat to sustainability. How rapidly things can change.
Atlanta is at the top of the Gini Index—which measures the gap between rich and poor—and at the bottom for raising our poorest citizens to a higher level. We are working to shore up this disparity through planning, design, and development practice. Modeled on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, we propose including provisions in design and development projects that attack the causes of poverty, as well as a rating system to measure progress. Thus, we propose to set benchmarks to address education, jobs, health, access, and infrastructure needs, then award points for attainment. We are calling this initiative “CSEQUIL” (Creating Sustainable Equity Leadership). Like LEED, we see this beginning as a voluntary program to do the right thing for equity.
The Neighborhood Postcard Project collects personal, positive stories from residents in underrepresented neighborhoods and mails them to random people in different neighborhoods within the same city in order to break down stereotypes and build community. The project, which began in San Francisco in 2013, has collected thousands of stories and shared them with unsuspecting strangers in cities including Macon, Georgia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Antofagasta, Chile. One postcard sender and recipient have even met in person for dinner—at one point realizing they had all read the same book about a clash of cultures several weeks before. This is the whole point of the project: To give people from different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles the space to come together to realize that they are much more similar than they are different.
The City of Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa by population. It is the economic powerhouse of the country and continent. Faced with challenges such as rapid urbanization, poverty, and the legacy of “apartheid town planning,” city officials are actively pursuing innovation.
One idea was triggered by the popular U.S. reality-television series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In 2007, City Parks launched its first XtremePark Makeover, where a barren piece of land in a poorer area of the city was transformed within a period of 24 hours into a fully functional park with indigenous trees, play equipment, and outdoor recreational facilities. The program is now an annual initiative in which a new XtremePark is developed each year on World Environmental Day. The event brings residents, corporate sponsors, and city officials together to develop a park that not only addresses recreational needs, but also reflects the heritage of particular communities. City Parks won a number of awards for this innovation, including the United Nations International Liveable Communities award.
Edmonton, a Canadian city of 877,926, is renowned for its highly integrated and innovative waste-management system. Built on a long-term vision of using waste as a resource instead of burying it in landfills, the system is focused on sustainability and environmental protection.
Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre is a 233-hectare site that encompasses the world's largest collection of integrated state-of-the-art facilities for solid waste management. This includes the largest composting facility of its type in North America, a materials recovery facility for sorting recyclables, an integrated processing and transfer facility, a leachate treatment facility, an electronics waste recycling facility, a construction-and-demolition waste recycling facility, a landfill gas plant that generates sufficient energy to power 4600 homes, and an advanced energy research facility. Canada’s first waste-to-biofuels facility for municipal waste also opened recently at this site.
These facilities, combined with efficient waste collection systems and community engagement, enable the City of Edmonton to divert up to 60 percent of residential waste from landfills, with a goal of 90 percent when the waste-to-biofuels facility is fully operational in 2016.
The idea: grow food where people live—and grow it more sustainably. In Montreal, Lufa Farms has built two commercial-scale rooftop greenhouses. The greenhouses total 74,000 square feet of growing area and produce some 200 metric tons of food annually, feeding thousands of city residents. Our concept is to grow food using no new land; capturing rainwater and recirculating irrigation water; using less energy to heat; using no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; composting green waste on site; and doing all of this close enough to where Montrealers live and work that tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, greens, cucumbers, herbs and more can be harvested the same day as delivery and in their kitchens by dinnertime. Urban agriculture is about helping cities to become more self-sufficient in food production, and we’re demonstrating that it can work on a commercially viable scale—thereby putting a real dent in the cost of feeding urban populations. We currently feed about 0.5 percent of Montreal residents, up from less than half of that a year ago, and we continue to grow at a rapid clip. If we can show that it works today, it will work even better tomorrow.
In 2012, Los Angeles adopted the biggest price reform for on-street parking since the parking meter was invented in 1935. L.A.’s Express Park program now adjusts meter prices by location and time of day on 817 blocks in the city’s downtown. The goal is to set variable prices that always leave one or two spaces open on every block. If the demand for parking on a block is lower, the price is lower. If demand is higher, the price is higher.
Right-priced curb parking can solve the problems created by charging either too much or too little. If the price of curb parking is too high, nearby stores lose customers, employees lose jobs, and governments lose tax revenue. If the price is too low, drivers are forced to circle the block to find an open space, wasting time and fuel, congesting traffic, and polluting the air. If the price is right, drivers will always find one or two open curb parking spaces at their destinations.
Charging the right prices for curb parking produced some surprising benefits. Express Park revealed that many meters had been overpriced, especially in the morning. During the program’s first year, 59 percent of meter prices decreased and only 29 percent increased. Average meter prices fell by 11 percent and average parking occupancy increased by 17 percent. Total meter revenue increased by 2.5 percent. With L.A. Express Park, parking reform is working well in Los Angeles.
With 33 percent of residents between the ages of 18-35, Tel Aviv is truly a Millennial capital. We want to develop the best environment for Millennials. But where do you start when most Millennials here say that city hall isn't targeted at solving their challenges, and 85 percent say they don't have platforms to influence their city?
In response, we formed the first of four centers for young adults: Mazeh9. Mazeh9 serves as a city platform for engaging Millennials by allowing its users to decide what happens there. Young adults can use the public spaces—a scarce resource in Tel Aviv—for community meetings, rehearsals, cultural events, study groups, and co-working spaces. Mazeh9’s focus on civic engagement makes it a hub for social entrepreneurs and young leaders, promoting values such as participation and transparency in civil service.
Mazeh9 looks, behaves, and talks young; it is run by a young staff and serves as a bridge of trust between Millennials and the government. It had 28,000 visitors in 2013, double the number in 2012. Because of Mazeh9, thousands of young residents are experiencing government in a positive way for the first time—not on social media, but in real life.