In 2023, there were numerous advancements in fostering more sustainable cities. From government incentives for increasing renewable energy access to prefabricated construction, new ideas are running wild amid a generation of rewilding.
The most eco-friendly ideas have probably yet to become normalized, so what can renters, buyers and industry professionals expect as green trends dominate in 2024?
Nature-Based Solutions for Disaster Resilience
Rooftop gardens and city greenery are becoming more common for aesthetics, but planners and designers understand they have a more significant role to play. Urban forests, rain gardens and wildlife microhabitats are organic buffers between residents and extreme weather conditions. If a city wants to achieve sustainability, it can only do so by protecting its current buildings.
Increased biodiversity assists with heat and flood management. The urban heat island effect is less prevalent with more nature-based solutions. Natural carbon sinks are ideal for managing carbon dioxide and keeping the air cooler and of higher quality, helping as sustainable cities rest in a predominantly transformative state for many years.
Water infrastructure like rain gardens, constructed wetlands and bioswales manage excess stormwater by controlling the flow speeds. It ensures water doesn’t head where it shouldn’t, preventing flooding and runoff that would cause pollution and more damage.
Coastal cities are an even more urgent concern, but they’re lush with nature-based solutions for keeping them safe. For example, seagrass habitats near shipping ports buffer storm surges, mitigating the impacts of torrential waters. Natural wetlands and dunes are more examples of structures cities must protect to keep their homes guarded.
Creatures may wander in unexpectedly if they notice the city habitat changing into something more akin to their homes. Eco-conscious water management through urban planning reduces the likelihood of unwanted species entering city limits, promoting healthy boundaries for biodiversity to thrive.
Biophilic Design Turns into Biomimicry
Biophilic design is when architects and interior professionals simulate the experience of being in nature within a building. The outside and inside decoration and architectural features reinforce the look and feel of being in nature.
Biomimicry takes this concept to another level. While incorporating more Earth-based elements in a building has benefits — green walls can reduce your energy costs by up to 23% in summer — sustainability innovators must keep thinking about how the idea can expand. Biomimicry is when sustainable city designers attempt to make the construction feel alive.
It looks at animals and plants for design inspiration. What are their survival instincts and the ways they traverse unfavorable conditions? Designers take these insights and translate them into building design. A typical example people overlook is solar panels. Many arrays work on racking systems that allow the panels to move in the sun’s direction to transform the most energy. It sounds like a lot of plants, such as sunflowers.
One of the most famous examples is the Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe. This equatorial nation has to be creative when managing extreme temperatures, so designers built this structure like a termite mound. The thermoregulatory capabilities are a next-level energy-efficient building design, using 90% less energy than other skyscrapers.
Builders chasing third-party certifications may have heard of The Living Building Challenge from the International Living Future Institute. The project wants sustainable cities to focus on self-sustaining, ecologically restorative blueprints that are just as successful in modeling as in practice. It encourages architecture that excels in 20 strict categories, including but not limited to:
- Responsible materials
- Urban agriculture
- Net-positive energy
- Universal access
- Healthy interior performance
Younger Generations and Green Building Equity
Younger generations are changing how money funnels into the building and architecture industry. Not all sustainable city trends involve reducing carbon emissions or managing energy consumption. Social justice is part of the greater sustainability movement and younger generations are setting precedents for this when building equity in a more climate-aware world.
More people are advocating for the fair distribution of green infrastructure, regardless of socioeconomic status. Minority populations and poorer communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and providing accessible, inexpensive and climate-friendly housing for these communities is what sustainable cities need. Typically, these communities have the oldest infrastructure, and it would yield the most noteworthy gains if builders retrofit them to make them more sustainable and climate resilient.
Gen Zers want eco-aware living spaces more than other amenities, like pool access. They are also more likely to advocate against unfair evictions and renter harassment for residents of all backgrounds. It reflects the priorities and shifting mindset of a society more aware of the intersections of the climate crisis with social issues.
This means ensuring these households do not have dangerous and damaging appliances like gas stoves. They must have energy-efficient alternatives instead. The dwellings should not have antiquated heating and cooling systems that make their utility bills soar as high as their rent — which is already inflated because of systemic prejudice.
Next-Generation Smart Buildings
The Internet of Things and wearable tech were an unforeseen hero in green infrastructure. Smart homes allow data collection for gradual improvements, like indoor air quality monitoring and water leak detection. In 2024, smart buildings will become smarter as AI takes the world by storm.
Citizens will notice this in numerous ways. Electric vehicle charging stations will be more accessible and charge all car levels in record time based on energy availability. Microgrids attached to renewable energy will be able to have power if there is an outage. AI will change buildings of all types, but it has the potential to decarbonize commercial buildings the most.
Data centers are one of the focal points of conversations surrounding eco-conscious HVAC and water use. Their global impact increases daily, compounding into a dominating category of greenhouse gases. The information AI provides about data centers could improve the efficacy of cooling systems by 30% or more.
Machine learning tools will also be able to make sustainable cities adaptive. Consider how AI-embedded IoT devices monitor the inside and outside of buildings. However, a new green road project transforms the environment outside a skyscraper.
Smart monitors can identify air quality and temperatures that are atypical to patterns they identify in historical data, adjusting how the building operates in response. This is essential, as sustainable urban development is a constant project. Smart systems are vital for keeping buildings at peak performance, while surrounding areas might be less so.
IoT incorporation was a necessary first step in previous sustainability efforts for gathering information. AI is here to process and learn about that data to deliver suggestions for greener improvements.
The Future of Green Infrastructure Is More Than Materials
Renewable energy, smart technology and ethically sourced materials are cornerstones of green buildings. In the next several years, these tenants will become the norm, challenging sectors to find more ways to appeal to climate-conscious consumers.
Green innovations through retrofitting, equity and biomimicry are the upcoming expectations for sustainable design. Corporations not embracing these priorities will see decreased property values and competitive advantage as more Earth-friendly operations soar.