smart cities

A city is only smart if it is green

Governments, consultants and businesses are looking at ways of using data and digital technology to improve life in urban areas. But for veteran Indian scholar and environmental activist Vandana Shiva, a city is only “smart” if it is supporting the environment and local communities

Home life sustainability smart cities A city is only smart if it is green

By 2030, 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. Participants at The Future of Cities event that took place recently in Milan were exploring how to manage the challenges that presents. 

Organised by Domus, the architecture and design magazine, and sponsored by Pirelli, much of the focus was on mapping out the agenda of the urban future – including the use of digital technology to make cities work better. But for Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, who was one of the speakers, there is only one priority: balancing the needs of people and the planet. Trained as a physicist, she has spent her life fighting for biological and cultural diversity and says we are running out of time.

A city is only smart if it is green
A city is only smart if it is green

If you had to pick three elements that make up a smart city, what would they be?

I would choose the three elements of life: the air we breathe (and the pollution we pump up, which causes climate change), the water we drink, that sustains life, and the food we eat.

When and where do you think the first 100 per cent smart city will be?

It depends on how you measure “smartness”. If all you see in smartness is digital equipment, then that is clearly not smart enough. A smart city has to be smart for the Earth, for communities, for relationships. We need to create it in the next 10 years, because we really only have 10 years to avoid the devastation of the planet.

How do you see the city of the future?

For me, anything ideal has to be embedded in the life of ecosystems and in the limits of ecological renewal. A city of the future will have to make a major contribution to the people who live in that city and all of the people in rural areas, in faraway places, who sustain that city.

How are we doing in reaching full sustainability?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and all the major panels with thousands of scientists behind them are telling us that we have 10 years to reach sustainability. If we don't and we continue to do business as usual – based on long-distance transport, on fossil fuels, on chemicals made from fossil fuels, on killing birds and bees and leading to thousands of people dying every year – then in 100 years we will be extinct. So we have 10 years to avoid extinction.

What should big companies do; how can they take a lead?

Every company, big and small, has to assess the social and ecological impact of their actions – and the bigger they are, the more responsibility they carry.