A recent UN report says that countries around the world are not doing enough to keep global temperatures from rising. Climate crisis is escalating. Infernos in Australia and storms and floods in Brazil, Madagascar, Spain and the US are some of the most recent pieces of evidence.
If we look at the biodiversity of the planet, many species are on the verge of extinction while some have disappeared. Whether it is the forests of Amazon or the suburban hinterlands of America, Southeast Asia’s mangroves or the depths of the oceans. Millions of species are disappearing according to a report published at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. For instance, since 1970, North America has lost over a quarter of its birds. Some ecologists argue that the study overlooked places like farms and cities where biodiversity is almost equal to non-existing. Ecologists everywhere are bemoaning the fact that urban environments lack true biodiversity. There is an urgent need for spaces inside the urban space which are ‘undisturbed by humans’ – urban forests.
Hence, going with reality, a new wave of transformation is reaching the shores of cities. China, Malaysia and Mexico are leading this change. Read on to know more about it.
The Pioneering Forest City of Liuzhou
Development of the world’s first forest city is underway in the north of Liuzhou over an area of 175 hectares. This place is located in the mountainous southern province of Guangxi along the Liujiang River. The region is one of the most smog-prone urban areas in the world due to overpopulation. So it’s quite evident why this region was probably chosen to build the forest city.
Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning commissioned the masterplan which is being designed and managed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, the Italian architecture company. Once it reaches completion, the forest city will be home to 30,000 humans, 40,000 trees and 1 million plants from more than 100 species. As per the Italian company, the forest city will serve as a sustainable machine that inhales 10,000 tons of CO2 and 57 tons of micro-particles annually. And contributing to the improvement in the quality of air, it will exhale 900 tons of oxygen in the same time period. All this will be possible with a huge blanket of trees and plants covering the forest city. Besides the distribution of plants along the avenues of parks and gardens, building facades will also be covered with greens. A planimetric layout will be designed that will harmonise with the geography of the surrounding mountains while integrating specific qualities of the local landscape.
Furthermore, residential and commercial buildings, public spaces, schools and hospitals will be equipped with high-efficiency rooftop solar panels. Essentially, the forest city itself will be self-sufficient in terms of producing and consuming energy and improving air quality. It will also reduce the average temperature of the urban heat island, and increase the biodiversity of living species. The design is focused to attract a variety of birds, insects, small animals that inhabit the surrounding areas. And as far as commutation is concerned, the forest city will be linked to the city centre of Liuzhou via a highly-efficient railway infrastructure. A road network will also be constructed that will be dedicated to electric cars only. Reportedly, this Chinese forest city is the first project in the world that will be able to combine meeting the challenge of significantly reducing air pollution.
Smart Forest City of Cancun In Mexico
Stefano Boeri, the Italian architect and founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti is also working on a similar forest city project in Mexico. But this one, in Cancun, will be happening on a bigger scale – on a 557-hectare area. Grupo Karim’s, the Mexico-based global player in the real estate industry will be funding the project. Cancun is Boeri’s most ambitious forest city project until now. The Italian architect has revealed plans of combining sustainable energy, biodiversity and smart city technology to introduce a forest city. Boeri’s Bosco Verticale – the iconic vertical forest – a tree-covered residential building will be used as a model to construct buildings in the new forest city.
Over 120,000 humans, 260,000 trees, and 7.5 million plants will inhabit the Cancun forest city. Hence, the green cover is expected to absorb 5,800 tons of CO2 every year. Trees will absorb stormwater, cool the surrounding air and provide shade that will improve walkability. This is as explained by Laura Gatti, the agronomist and landscape designer of the project. Buildings will be powered by solar panels and are anticipated to consume half the energy of a standard building in Mexico. Each one will be constructed with a different height to enable greater air penetration. Half of the office spaces will be in the open air benefiting from the Cancun’s warm and breezy climate. Natural ventilation along with mist fans will serve as a low-energy solution.
Making the forest city smart, big data management will improve governance. An app will help residents make energy savings. It will suggest, for example, to use the washing machine when the sun is out and solar energy is readily available. An on-site research centre is expected to be developed to host organisations concerned with sustainability problems. As an innovative concept, canals will irrigate farms and gardens thereby reducing the threat of flooding. A robotic boat will be introduced to collect waste in the canal. Sargassum, brown algae growing on Cancun beaches is an unattractive sight for tourists. Hence, these will be used as biofuel for energy supply.
Going further, electric and semi-automatic transportation, self-driving cars, sensor-enabled parking, smart streetlights will also be added. A recent report showed that heavy metals were detected in the air of Cancun city. The air quality exceeded the safe limit. So, this forest city will serve as a substantial solution to fight climate change. The dates of completing the project are expected to be finalised later this year.
Award-winning Forest City of Malaysia
Another high-profile forest city is being constructed in Johor, Malaysia. The forest city is being developed on four artificial islands which project from the tip of peninsular Malaysia and the place is just about two kilometres away from Singapore. The $100 billion development is expected to be four times the size of New York’s Central Park. It will have houses to accommodate 700,000 people and will create 220,000 jobs. As per the design plan, the city will fully be covered with greenery. Roads and parking will be excavated underground to keep the main living area free from cars.
Recently, the forest city’s international business complex, ‘Feathers of the Sea’ won the 2019 Asian Townscape Jury’s Award. With its first phase completed, the project was acclaimed for its green construction design and measures to preserve the ecological environment. The project is funded by China’s Country Garden Group and local partner Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd. And 99.9% of Feathers of the Sea is owned by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor. The developers hope that the Feathers of the Sea will become a popular attraction for shopping and tourism. They have future plans to invite large-scale duty-free shops, high-end supermarkets, children’s entertainment, international brand flagship stores and more.
Furthermore, a wetland park and a seagrass restoration plan will also be in place to improve the ecological environment of the coastal region. However, there are certain controversies around the project. For instance, 700,000 people will live in an area of 14 square km on the four islands. With this, forest city would have the highest population density in the world. The project is already underway and is expected to be completed by 2035.
As we look at all three forest city projects, each one has an enhanced sustainable living to offer. And with the growing threat from climate change, it is likely that the urban leaders redefine the smart city concept. The focus might shift to building ‘forest cities’ for enriched sustainability.