[Opinion] Mapping urban sustainability parameters
Built environment professionals have a compelling opportunity to help manage the risks arising from climate change and its impact on European cities. By Dr. Leyre Echevarría Icaza MRICS
Climate change is already resulting in major global changes in precipitation and temperature patterns, together with the alteration of sea levels. In Europe wet regions will become wetter, dry regions will become drier and the frequency and intensity of heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts will increase.
However, indoor one feels protected from the natural elements. Spending more than 85% of our time indoors, we are often not aware of our exposure (physical, economical and social) to bad weather conditions resulting from climate change. Almost 80% of EU citizens live in cities and actually, extreme weather events particularly affect cities due to their physical structures which influence wind, precipitation, heat accumulation patterns and drainage and sewerage systems.
Buildings and infrastructures are at constant risk due to the changing climatic patterns, which is why it is urgent they are adapted to avoid the building pathologies associated with extreme precipitation (such as landslide, structural damage to foundations, overflowing drainage systems) and extreme heat events (such as unhealthy interior building conditions, high energy consumption).
The vulnerability to climate change within cities can actually be categorised by sector, as it will depend upon the field of activity, the supplies required by these activities, and how critical they are. Urban planning, buildings, industry, transport and energy are among the main vulnerable sectors described by the Urban Adaptation Support Tool, developed by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy Europe.
In this context, urban data systematic mapping is key to identifying risks and vulnerable areas within cities. It is thus essential to use tools (geographic information systems) that allow the analysis of overlapping information coming from different sources: vector mapping of buildings (collecting information on building construction dates, energy efficiency certificates, building uses, physical condition data, forecasting consumption through the analysis of historical data, air and water quality measurements, land use, urban density changes), satellite raster imagery from Landsat 8 or even higher resolution sensors that can also be installed on drones (mapping surface temperatures, reflected radiation coefficients -albedo-, vegetation indexes -NDVI-, imperviousness coefficients), mobile tracking mapping systems (to track human flows to track traffic and identify optimal routes to impact on users and cities, human behavior by neighborhoods or social groups, patterns of “shared mobility vehicles”).
CBRE´s business analytics department is precisely developing mapping tools to ensure leverage all possible data layers of city information to allow the most wholistic city analysis. Investors interest and concern for climate change is growing, not only to avoid risks but also to ensure their contribution to the reduction of global warming, thus the development of refined data maps collecting detailed information on risks and vulnerabilities are key to ensure appropriate actions to ensure the adaptation of our buildings, neighborhoods and cities to climate change.
Skills and adaptation
In line with the findings of the RICS Future of the Profession consultations conducted last year, our profession has a compelling opportunity to help manage this global shift in a way that is sustainable – through for example the application of technology and the careful measurements. To do so will require us to think about the skill sets needed in the future.
The urban planner’s role should be adapted to the current globalised and over-specialised economic and environmental context, envisioning a balance at the regional scale, apprehending not only new technologies, but also new mapping principles, that allow obtaining multidisciplinary integral overviews since the preliminary stages of the design process.