Global Challenges and Possible Solutions

Urban societies are growing almost everywhere in the world. In fact, more than half the world’s population have been living in cities since 2007(1). And this growth is coupled with a duty to take people and the environment into consideration. Cities are growing in terms of population, density and the amount of area they cover. They are also responsible for the majority of environmental problems facing humanity: massive consumption of resources, climate change caused by human activities, air pollution and the loss of biodiversity. Urbanization can also have undesirable social consequences, such as health problems, increasing social inequality and declining social cohesion.

News and images from rapidly growing cities in Africa, Asia and South America seem far removed from our lived experience, and the traffic jams and smog in Mexico City or Dakar make our traffic problems seem trivial by comparison. Nevertheless, traffic in the metropolitan area of Berlin costs our society several billion euros each year(2), not to mention the horrific indirect costs we inflict on the rest of the world. Although some lobbyists still promote the expansion of road networks, the time has long since come to start gradually replacing fossil fuel-powered transportation. It’s bad enough that our lifestyle relies on excessive consumption and is being imitated all over the world. Our planet won’t be able to cope if other nations choose the same path as we have. This is another reason why it is so important that we take action to transform our cities.

But let’s take a look at the positive aspects of cities. After all, even though cities represent part of the problem, they also contain the solution: dense, compact construction not only reduces the energy costs of each household – it also reduces traffic(3). What’s more, the promotion of multi-modal transport options based on pedestrian and bicycle traffic and public (or shared) means of transportation represents a cost-effective shift in our cities. We also believe that the new technical possibilities of information and communication technology will contribute towards more efficient mobility.

(1) United Nations (2014): World Urbanization Prospects. The 2014 Revision. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York
(2) INRIX Research (2014): Europe’s Traffic Hotspots. Measuring the impact of congestion in Europe. INRIX, Kirkland et al.
(3) Umweltbundesamt (2017): Die Stadt für Morgen. Umweltschonend mobil – lärmarm – grün – kompakt – durchmischt. Umweltbundesamt, Dessau