Interview with Gino Van Begin, Secretary General of ICLEI
Cities are permanently under construction. Siemens is involved in a broad range of projects worldwide. The following pages illustrate the technological and geographical scope of the Siemens portfolio, which is as diverse as the cities it serves.
How important is technology in metropolitan solutions?
G. Van Begin: Technology is absolutely essential. But I get the impression that cities don’t want to hear companies talk about their technical solutions anymore. Problems are no longer singular. They’re multifaceted. The mayor of Dar-es-Salaam, for instance, was reelected on his record of building infrastructure such as hospitals and roads. But the population there may have tripled during the time he was in office. So even with new roads, the city is still just as congested. It is my aim to see companies anticipate these trends and offer not just technology but solutions, and even capacity-building. In the end, cities are demanding industry best practices.
Creativity is surely a big part of it.
G. Van Begin: Definitely. For mobility, one good idea I’ve seen is to use cable cars as mass transit for informal settlements. In Bogotá, Colombia, for instance, people live in the hills, and these people need to get to the city. In Copenhagen, one out of two commuters cycles to work. Since the cycling paths are congested, Copenhagen is trying to get employers to allow people to work at different times and to provide showers at work. To build a cycling path is not the creative part anymore. The innovation is in taking it one step further, as Copenhagen did, and working with employers to change behavior. I’ve also seen great ideas in urban agriculture that cut down on food transportation, such as seafood farming in large vertical basins in a building.
What keeps you up at night, Mr. Van Begin?
G. Van Begin: When I look at the map, I see that some cities just won’t exist anymore as the global temperature rises, glaciers melt, and sea levels rise. Some cities will sink underwater. This requires a whole new way of thinking and planning. Imagine that we had to relocate Bonn to another place. How do you plan and execute that?
Which areas will be affected first?
G. Van Begin: The small islands of this world and low-lying countries like Bangladesh. First comes flooding, then problems with drinking water. And on it goes. There’s also the problem of the build-up and release of methane gas from thawing permafrost in the Arctic. That is very dangerous; if the methane is released, it will be as if we had done nothing at all about global warming. Cities are trying to get a head start, particularly by creating a green infrastructure. Some cities will need more trees to provide shade when temperatures rise. This is a much better alternative to air-conditioning. Others will need to deal with flooding, perhaps by building water squares, which are plazas that can be used for collecting heavy runoff.
These are situations no one wants to face.
G. Van Begin: That’s right, but those scenarios are not science fiction. There’s no time to waste. In developing countries and emerging economies, it’s incredible to see how fast cities grow. Today, some 3.5 billion people live in urban areas. That’s half of the world population. They’ll be having children, so another 3.5 billion people will join our cities in the next 40 years. And they’ll live longer. That means we have 40 years to provide the same amount of water, energy, electricity, houses, jobs, infrastructure, etc. over again, in addition to what we already have today, for these 3.5 billion new people. We have 40 years to do what took us almost 4,000 years to achieve.
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