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Global forum calls for interconnected sustainability

Global forum calls for
interconnected sustainability

If we don't change, the world will soon be over... Living just enough, just enough for the city!

                                                                                  -- Stevie Wonder, Living for the City, 1973

by ROB McMANAMY | June 3, 2015

Immense challenge. Immense opportunity. Our planet is changing more rapidly, more profoundly than ever before. So our species had better get it right this time. Songwriter Stevie Wonder may have been exaggerating artistically 40-plus years ago, but today, experts agree that how we handle the future of cities will make all the difference in the world.

That was the recurring theme May 27-29 at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs's inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities. Co-sponsored by the Financial Times, the ambitious, three-day program welcomed 600 delegates from 25 nations to discuss a wide range of topics, covering everything from environmentally sustainable design and reimagining infrastructure to alleviating poverty, providing sufficient health care, combating crime and maintaining public safety.

  • Come to 'Restructuring American Cities' with Peter Ellis, June 4, at BuiltWorlds.

"For the first time in human history, more people today live in cities and urban areas than on rural lands, and by 2050, two thirds of the world population will live in cities," said Amb. Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council, in opening remarks at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. "This will be the century of cities," he added. "And among the most important of these are global cities... roughly 25 cities that really drive the regions and nations of which they are a part."

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang discusses designing cities for environmental sustainability. (Full video below)

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang discusses designing cities for environmental sustainability. (Full video below)

In the U.S., only Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles meet the Council's definition of major non-state actors, joined overseas by metropolises like London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sao Paulo. "Across the globe, people are moving at a record pace into cities, and this is presenting them not just with challenges, but with opportunities to make significant change," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, welcoming attendees seated beneath the Frank Gehry-designed bandshell.

Gehry, himself, had been scheduled to appear at the event, but had to withdraw at the 11th hour due to a back injury. The show went on, of course, and the session from which he had withdrawn, "Designing Environmentally Sustainable Cities", was still one of the most thought-provoking for those in the AEC audience. Moderated by FT architecture critic Edwin Heathcote, the panel included Chicago architects Jeanne Gang, founder of StudioGang, and Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, president and chief of design at JAHN; as well as former EPA Administrator and World Wildlife Fund President William Reilly, now a senior advisor with TPG Creative Capital; and Richard Burdett, a professor of urban studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

We have to start thinking about cities as something that we can remake in a better, more efficient way.
— Jeanne Gang, StudioGang

"We have to start thinking about cities as something that we can remake in a better, more efficient way," said Gang. "I'm really excited thinking these days about how everything systemically is inter-related and how buildings can connect into that system, where for example, waste from one industry can be used as energy for another."

Such new thinking will require no small degree of re-education for owners, policymakers, and the public, added Mexico-born Gonzales-Pulido, who shares management of the international design firm with its founder (and namesake), Helmut Jahn. "I think this issue of perceived comfort is a very important one," he explained. "We designed a building in Switzerland where for four months of the year, it is not using any heating or cooling. The people there understood that it is possible to live without that, so we designed an atrium with an operable roof that actually opens up to the outdoors. Here, our offices go from either cooking to freezing. Couldn't we train people to be more tolerant about their comfort? If so, I think the impact could be huge!"

For the full panel discussion, see below. For more videos from the Global Forum, click here.

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