Technology, intelligent buildings, energy-saving systems – these are some ideas that come to mind when we hear the term “sustainable city.” However, this concept covers far beyond the construction sector.
A sustainable city does not only have the proper infrastructure, but also has integrated all actors of society to increase productivity and improve quality of life without sacrificing the welfare of the planet.
The five factors:
- Efficient and safe infrastructure
- Sustainability education
- Business innovation in responsible products and services
- Ecological culture
- Technological employment in favor of the environment
Costa Rica has time and time again been ranked as one of the most sustainable countries on the planet, but there is still work to be done. In 2014, San Jose joined the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Program (ESC), the Inter-American Development Bank’s technical assistance program which provides direct support to national and sub-national governments in the development and execution of city “Action Plans.”
ESC employs a multidisciplinary approach to identify, organize and prioritize urban interventions to tackle the main roadblocks that prevent the sustainable growth of emerging cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. This transversal approach is based on three pillars: environmental and climate change sustainability, urban sustainability, and fiscal sustainability and governance.
Then, at the end of 2015, downtown San Jose celebrated urban sustainability with forums on intelligent cities, an Urban Rally, and a concert. This event was hosted by Costa Rica’s Center for Urban Sustainability. The director, San Gil, gave this quote during the event:
The principal objective is to make a better life in the cities for the people. This can be done from the themes of culture to those of public spaces, from trash management to transportation, from water to local economy. We want to take it a step further than this notion that sustainability is simply to be ‘green’ and work the other colors of the city that need attention too.
“There is a principle that human beings still fail to internalize: nature does not generate waste. What is scrap for one kingdom is taken advantage of by another. Ants have very complex sociological systems. It is worth considering how we can take advantage of everything,” said Kenneth Ochoa, Environmental Engineer at El Bosque University of Colombia.
A sustainable city has various elements that can be considered in such a way; for example, infrastructure and soft knowledge, according to Ana Quiros, president of the Council of Green Construction of Costa Rica (GBC-CR).
The first comprises not only the support systems of the buildings, but also streets, parks, treatment systems, and energy supply, among others. An important issue is mobility. It also includes the ergonomics of offices. This not only refers to energy efficiency, but also adequate conditions for workers, contributing to their quality of life and greater competitiveness. Some suggestions are better lighting and natural ventilation.
Soft knowledge properly refers to the lifestyles of a society, from how one takes advantage of infrastructure to the way in which the population does or does not demand sustainability. In this aspect, the information possessed by a society comes into play. Education campaigns and interfaces make any system operational and able to achieve greater competitiveness.
Furthermore, a sustainable city is closely linked to the positive impact of three dimensions of sustainable development: the social, economic, and environmental.
On the part of social development, it aims to close the gaps of inclusion and poverty, improving access of the whole population to all development opportunities. This is especially important for vulnerable populations, such as refugees and people with disabilities. In addition, this aspect encompasses issues of gender equality.
With regard to the economic dimension, one of the issues of greatest relevance is competitiveness. This implies redefining the role of the private sector, which should be committed to sustainable development and innovative new products and services that favor the environment. Economic development also comprises initiatives related to the promotion of responsible linkages by business leaders and just practices of operation derived from the norm ISO 26000.
Lastly, environmental development implies all actions that are proposed to mitigate the city’s environmental footprint and promote positive consequences for the environment. Examples include raw material replacement for others with less impact and recycling and reduction, among other initiatives.