6 Steps for Designing Healthy Cities

Some estimates suggest that cities account for 70% of global CO2 emissions and consume more than two-thirds the world’s energy. This number will only increase with the increasing global migration from rural areas to urban areas. FABRICations, a Dutch design and research studio, has explored new ways cities can reduce carbon emissions by using design-led methods.

FABRICations advocates for a fundamental rethinking of urban systems and an examination of what it means to be a city in order to reduce the negative impact they have on the environment. FABRICations’ “Urban Metabolism” ethos views cities as a multilayered system of interconnected infrastructures. It relies on circular processes to make the residual products of one system a resource for another.

The firm developed six strategies to ensure that healthy cities are the future. This was achieved through collaborations and design research projects. The strategies range from the reuse of energy and heat to the transformation of cities into modern sponges. They all share the common goal of encouraging circularity through urbanism.

1. Remainder heat can be reused and cascaded to reduce consumption. This will activate public space and promote sustainable mobility.

 “Regional Spatial Agenda – Brabant”, 2015. A heat network backbone is combined with a fast mobility connection and a biodiversity corridor to create an enhanced cycling experience

FABRICations: “This strategy was tested in projects like the “Metabolism of Rotterdam” and the “Regional Spatial Agenda for Brabant”. The first used the huge amount of heat from the city’s industrial area to acclimatize homes, offices, greenhouses, and eventually public space. The second project used residual heat from the city to heat cycle roads for ice-free winter roads.

2. Modern cities can be transformed into sponges by creating stormwater storage areas that are flexible and have additional functions during off-peak hours.

 “Ningo-PramPram Urban Expansion”, 2016. project developed for UN Habitat, in collaboration with MLA+, Mixst Urbanisme, More Architecture, OKRA. In the image, an overview of the urban plan.

FABRICations: “In the “Ningo-Prampram urban expansion for 1.8 million inhabitants,” a flooding landscape was introduced to capture excessive runoff in urbanized zones. The urban grid was broken by ‘green fingers’. They were created according to topography to create a flexible space for food production, recreation and biodiversity.

3. To fertilize urban farms with sustainable energy, collect and process organic waste.

 The “Urban Metabolism of Rotterdam”:  Aerial view of the Rotterdam harbor park, where new biotopes in are generated in relation to seaweed harvesting and processing.

FABRICations: “The “Metabolism of Rotterdam” addressed the reuse of organic waste from multiple angles. A system to capture nutrients and phosphates from water streams was suggested, among other things. Most valuable substances are washed away by agricultural processes and thrown into the rivers. However, they can be used in aquaculture or energy production infrastructure. A waste sorting system could be installed in homes to help in the recovery of maximum value from waste. This would also allow for increased production of protein and biomass energy.

4. In order to preserve heritage and create inclusive, sustainable communities, it is important to establish practices for construction-waste recycling, reducing demolition, logistics, and new construction.

 The “Bajes Kwartier”, rendered view of two preserved buildings: the Green Tower and the CODE design museum. Image by Robota.

FABRICations: “In the design of “Bajes Kwartier”, a former prison complex that will be transformed into the ‘sustainable residential neighborhood of the future’, CO2 emissions for new construction were drastically reduced by processing and reusing 95% of construction material on site. Four existing buildings will be preserved, and will be transformed into iconic elements and public attractions.

5. Make use of urban areas that aren’t being used to encourage ecology and healthy living.

 The “Ecological Energy network”, 2014, developed in collaboration with Lola, Studio 1:1. In the image:  Impression of an urban ecological energy park.

FABRICations: “Such an approach has been proposed in the “Ecological Energy Network”, a strategic design to transform areas in the proximity of power lines into the largest biodiversity corridor of the Netherlands. These areas are often subject to restrictions and end up being neglected, particularly in urban areas. These areas could be transformed into green corridors to add value to the urban environment and communities.

6. In combination with renewable energy, prioritize access to electric and sustainable mobility by building infrastructure.

 “The Highway x The City”, Diagrammatic representation of increase accessibility by the creating underground traffic lanes.

“The Highway x The City”, Diagrammatic representation of increas

FABRICations: “Similarly to most of the issues mentioned, this one can be approached from a spatial design point of view as much as from a strategic location process. The study “Highway x City” showed how major Amsterdam mobility lanes were transformed into urban boulevards with improved access for pedestrians and cyclists, charging stations and underground traffic routes.

The “Izmir Cycling Scan” was a mapping of leisure and cultural areas in the city. It included a 2.5km radius around the map to determine the best places for a cycle route that could be used for leisure-oriented mobility and logistics.

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