Remaking Sustainable Cities in the Vertical Age
Rapid urbanization of developing countries such as India and China over the past decade have resulted in almost 200,000 people migrating from rural to urban regions somewhere on the planet every day (United Nations statistics). This translates into the need for the world to accommodate the equivalent of a new city of one million people every week. How can our existing – or new – urban centers accommodate this growth? The traditional American model of a dense working downtown core and an ever-expanding residential suburb have been generally recognized as an unsustainable model for the future, due to the high energy expenditure of the necessary expanded infrastructure (roads, power, waste etc), the transport commute itself (largely automobile) and the loss of natural greenbelt / landscape for agriculture and ecological balance. Humanity needs to evolve into a more sustainable pattern of existence, and cities need to become denser with more concentrated centers for living, work and play.
This is not a scenario that is unique to the developing world. Whilst population growth is more static in many developed countries, immigration and changing social demographics are having a massive impact on countries such as the US and UK. People are living longer, divorce rates have been rising for several decades, the average number of people in households has dropped, and the number of single-people households has risen. In the UK, for example, this results in the need for 200,000 new homes every year for the next ten years in order to cope with demand. Where can these new homes be built? In the ever-increasing, energy-profligate suburb, or in denser cities with their greater potential for energy saving?
Whilst these envisaged new cities have an important role to play in the future, in themselves they are not the solution. The rural to urban migration is centered on existing cities, many of which are struggling with the consequential population explosion and the impact on existing infrastructure and patterns of life. Our host city for the conference – Mumbai – is a poignant example of the pressures many cities in developing countries face. A population growth which currently sees the city census at 16 million and growing daily, is superimposed on an infrastructure which has seen little development since its initial creation. Every aspect of it seems way beyond capacity – mass transit, power, waste handling, access to clean water. Mumbai's geographic make-up as a fairly narrow 'dead-end' peninsular, with the business center concentrated towards the end exacerbates this situation, with the north-south flow and reverse flow creating average travel speeds of 15 km/h.
Thus the real situation that countries such as India and China face – as well as large parts of the developed world – is not necessarily how to create new sustainable cities where the urban slate is wiped clean, but how to re-make existing cities in a sustainable way. This conference will debate these urban and policy issues, while also considering what role tall buildings and increased urban density will play. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is the arbiter of the criteria upon which tall building height is measured, and thus determines the title of 'The World's Tallest Building'. CTBUH is the world's leading body dedicated to the field of tall buildings and urban habitat and the recognized international source for information in these fields.
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