Forest cities: The future of sustainable living

Across the globe, people are flocking to live in cities at an unprecedented rate. By 2030, almost two thirds of us will live in a metropolis. With resources squeezed, and pollution rife, how do we construct our cities of the future to best effect, and what opportunity does this present to private investors?


Those are questions Italian architect Stefano Boeri has asked himself over the years. Famous for his plant-covered skyscrapers that combat air pollution, Boeri is now taking his concept to new heights.

Liuzhou in southern China is to be the world's first forest city. Spread over 175 hectares along the Liujiang river, the 70 buildings will be covered in 40,000 trees and 1 million plants that trail over balconies and roof tops. Construction is underway and the eco-city is due to be completed in 2020.

Once in place, the greenery will be capable of absorbing 10,000 tons of CO2 and producing 900 tons of oxygen per year.

The need to combat air pollution has never been more pressing. The World Health Organization estimates that 3 million people die every year from breathing in polluted air, with China one of the most polluted countries. More than 80 percent of the world's city dwellers live in places that exceed recommended pollution limits.

UBS social impact initiatives aim to support the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), recommends opportunities for impact investment in the infrastructure needed for these fast growing cities.

"Emerging markets are forecast to account for almost two thirds of global infrastructure spending by 2025 – totaling $5.5 trillion", says Mark Haefele, global chief investment officer for UBS Wealth Management. "Investing in sustainable urban infrastructure that is affordable, accessible and sustainable will lead to a secure future, both financially and in terms of healthy living and life expectancy. The two come hand in hand."

As World Cities Day is marked on October 31, the focus is on attaining the UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to make cities "inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable."

The UN has called for collaboration with the private sector in order to achieve the global goals. Citing the Better Business Better World report, Private Sector Program Analyst at UNDP, Nazila Vali, says the goals could open up an estimated $12 trillion in market opportunities in four areas: food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being.

"Inclusive business practices can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals while opening up new market opportunities for companies," she affirms.

Boeri's vision is that Liuzhou will be the first of a series of sustainable mini-cities across China, providing a green road map, and inspiring others to boldness, innovation and sustainability as they re-design our urban landscape.

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