City planners are facing an ‘unenviable’ balancing act of tackling climate change and improving quality of life, according to new research.
The study, which was led by experts at Newcastle University and published in the journal Cities, analysed the trade-offs between different sustainability objectives.
These include minimising climate risks such as heat waves and flooding, reducing emissions from transport, constraining urban sprawl, making best use of our brownfield sites, ensuring adequate living space, and protecting green space which is important for our health and wellbeing.
Focusing on London, an example of a large rapidly growing city that is also at the forefront of tackling climate change, the team show the ‘best case’ scenario would be to increase development in a small number of central locations, such as East Barnet, Wood Green and Ealing.
Avoiding development along the Thames, researchers say this plan would reduce flood risk, minimise transport emissions and reduce urban sprawl.
However, author Dr Dan Caparros-Midwood says the trade-off will be more people exposed to extreme temperatures.
‘Many of the lowest heat hazard areas coincide with the flood zone on the banks of the River Thames due to the cooling effect of blue infrastructure,’ explains Dr Caparros-Midwood, who carried out the work as part of his PhD at Newcastle University.
‘But moving development away from the river while also protecting our green spaces and reducing sprawl really only leaves two options; either shrinking our homes or developing in higher heat risk areas.
‘And while our study looked at London, this could apply to most cities in the world.’
By 2050 it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities and project lead Professor Richard Dawson of the School of Engineering at Newcastle University, said the findings reinforced the scale of the challenge.
‘We are already starting to see the impact of hotter summers and flooding on our cities,’ he said.
‘Balancing trade-offs between these objectives is complex as it spans sectors such as energy, buildings, transport, and water.
‘What our study shows in stark detail is this cannot be done using our current approach to planning and engineering our cities – difficult choices will have to be made.’