The future for our cities

Two thirds of the global population will be living in cities by 2050. Urbanization is a global megatrend – with many different expressions. This is the story of how four growing cities are creating their own unique solutions towards a sustainable urban environment where people want to live.
Shanghai, a super growth mega city
Shanghai, a super growth mega city

Yvonne Lu is standing by the Huangpu River in central Shanghai. She is looking out over the iconic Lujiazui skyline in the Pudong district, with famous buildings such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the 632-meter-tall Shanghai Tower.

“When I was growing up, it was farmland here. But when you look at the Pudong area today, it’s full of skyscrapers and a busy city life. Shanghai has changed so much since I was a child, it’s really amazing,” says Yvonne Lu, a native Shanghainese.

For the past two decades, the world has seen its population increasingly concentrated to urban areas. According to the European strategy and analysis organization ESPAS, this trend will speed up at a remarkable rate. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world population could add another 2.5 billion people to the urban community by 2050, equivalent to today’s combined population of China and India.

The transformation of Shanghai to a modern megacity started in the 1990s, when market economy reforms led to a return of financial and foreign investment in the city. The foreign capital led, amongst other things, to the development of the Pudong district, resulting in the birth of Shanghai’s new financial district, Lujiazui – a vibrant international trade center, known around the world. Yvonne Lu, born in 1982, remembers a time before the great reinforcement of the city happened.

Yvonne Lu, project manager at Volvo Group Purchasing
When my friends and I met foreigners, we were all very curious and surprised. Now Shanghai has become an international and modern megacity, with people from all over the world living here.

The story of Shanghai’s rapid development is unique to the city itself. Because even though urbanization is a global phenomenon, it has many faces. Urbanization in Shanghai is not the same as urbanization in New York, Santa Cruz or Gothenburg. And when it comes to transportation, the cities all have different needs.

To better understand the different effects urbanization has on urban logistics, Volvo Group Product Design initiated a project to categorize different types of growing cities. The result was four city scenarios, all with their own unique characteristics, challenges and needs for solutions to handle growth in a sustainable way.

“Different types of cities require different types of transport solutions. There’s no such thing as one size fits all. By using these city scenarios, the Volvo Group can focus on solutions that really matter. It is a way of putting ourselves in that particular city’s point of view,” says Seiya Ohta, design director at Volvo Group Product Design.

Seiya Ohta, design director at Volvo Group Product Design

Shanghai is categorized as a super growth megacity. It is a fast-growing metropolis with a large population, continuously preparing for even further growth. It is well structured and open to innovation, for example within the field of autonomous solutions for public transportation. Emission and congestion rank highly on these cities’ agendas, with a focus on avoiding smog and poor health.

Heading home from downtown Shanghai, Yvonne Lu passes a construction site. Shanghai is expanding its metro system with an 18th line, covering 44.6 kilometers. Nine more lines are already being planned. The crowded metro means that Yvonne Lu – for now – chooses the flexibility of her car, even though it means spending three hours a day in traffic to and from work.

“As a Shanghainese, you are used to congestion, but it is frustrating of course. I’m glad that the city is addressing the congestion issue by developing public transportation,” she says.

However, expanding the infrastructure is not a solution that works for all growing cities. Shanghai covers an area of 6,341 square kilometers, which makes it about eight times larger than New York City. A condensed city like New York has to find other solutions to the challenges provided by congestion, air quality and noise.

In the central parts of New York City, there’s no empty land to develop new physical infrastructure. And as the city grows, more people are going to commute. This accelerates the need for urban logistics.

The high density of New York City labels it a mature compressed city in the model created by Volvo Group Product Design. These types of cities are characterized by a high GDP per capita and an extensive supply of culture and entertainment. There are also challenges in forms of an aging population and a lack of space. This requires innovative forms of transport solutions, not only for moving people, but also for moving goods and – just as importantly – moving waste.

“Waste handling is extremely important in New York City. We generate about 11,000 US tons of waste a day, which is almost as much as a small country. So, if we don’t move it quickly, meaning on the day it’s put out, we run the risk of health issues in the city,” says Rocco DiRico, who has served as deputy commissioner for the City of New York Department of Sanitation since 2002.

Rocco DiRico, deputy commissioner for the City of New York Department of Sanitation

Just like other forms of urban logistics, the transportation of waste can contribute to emission, congestion and noise. As our cities grow in population and develop economically, waste generation will increase. The World Bank estimates that the world’s waste generation will increase from the current 2 billion metric tons to 3.4 billion metric tons in 2050. In order to create truly sustainable cities, waste has to be managed in a sustainable way.

At the Central Repair Shop in Queens, the headquarters of the Department of Sanitation, Rocco DiRico walks past the on-site emissions laboratory, which is continuously working to lower the department’s environmental impact. In cooperation with Mack Trucks, the emissions from the vehicles have been brought down substantially in the past decades. But to contribute to the ambitious climate targets set by the City of New York, Rocco DiRico now sees electrification as the way forward. Therefore, the Department of Sanitation has decided to invest in electric refuse vehicles from Mack Trucks.

“We’ve tested many different technologies, but nothing comes close to electrification when it comes to achieving the targets that have been laid upon us. That is the reason why we have invested in the electrical trucks, simply because it really is the only way to achieve zero tailpipe emissions,” he says.

We’ve tested many different technologies, but nothing comes close to electrification when it comes to achieving the targets that have been laid upon us. That is the reason why we have invested in the electrical trucks, simply because it really is the only way to achieve zero tailpipe emissions.

New technologies, such as improved electrification, connectivity and even autonomous solutions, are ways to create a sustainable city for mature compressed cities. But for the third city scenario, the developing city, the challenges are different.

A developing city is characterized by a fast-growing population, with vast areas outside the city. The transport infrastructure is poor, and the public transport limited. Rising incomes in many developing countries where these cities are found, have led to rapid motorization, while road safety management and regulations have not kept pace.

“These cities suffer the most from the lack of a well-functioning infrastructure. 90% of global road deaths occur in these countries. And as the cities grow, the problems grow as well. It’s important for these cities to find suitable solutions to develop in a sustainable way,” says Seiya Ohta.

In terms of GDP per capita, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. Here lies Santa Cruz, which falls under the category underdeveloped city, even though the per capita income is substantially higher than the national average. Doubling its size every 15 years, it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. But the growth has not come without problems. The city has outgrown its infrastructure and municipal services are strained.

The city’s solution is quite bold. The Lafuente Group, the biggest real estate developer in Bolivia, is going to build a whole new city – Nueva Santa Cruz. When complete, the developer is looking at a population capacity of 370,000 people.

“The idea behind Nueva Santa Cruz follows a universal principle – it’s easier to build something new than to rebuild an old city. It’s difficult to change things in an existing city due to high costs, expropriation and opposition. In Nueva Santa Cruz, we have a great opportunity to create a competitive city in terms of modern technology, urban planning and sustainability,” says Julio Novillo, owner of the Lafuente Group.

Julio Novillo, owner of the Lafuente Group

By 2030, ESPAS estimates that around 630 million people will live in megacities with over 10 million inhabitants. In addition to these megacities, about 400 million people will live in cities of 5-10 million people, and 1 billion people are expected to live in cities where the population is 1-5 million. However, most of the world’s urban dwellers will still live in cities of less than 1 million people. Much like the city of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Gothenburg, with its relatively low population and small city center, falls under the category prosperous revitalized city. A culture of innovation and embracing of new technologies are typical for these cities – as well as extensive environmental plans. This describes Gothenburg well, not seldom referred to as the most sustainable city in the world.

“What I like best about living in Gothenburg is the closeness to both the nature and the sea, alongside the proximity to the city. It’s big enough to have the work opportunities, the culture and all the shops that you need, but small enough that you can actually meet people who you know on the street,” says Cecilia Elb, senior innovation manager at Volvo Group Connected Solutions.

Cecilia Elb, senior innovation manager at Volvo Group Connected Solutions

Cecilia Elb also appreciates the city’s highly developed public transportation system, where there are both buses and ferries that run on electricity, as well as the trams that connect the city. But Cecilia Elb’s professional focus is on moving goods in and around the city.

“Efficient urban logistics is getting more and more important. Urbanization and a growing demand for e-commerce bring more and more goods and traffic into the cities. What we see is that the vans and trucks that are delivering these goods are not fully loaded, at times they are not even half-full, so there is potential to do something with this air that we are transporting,” she explains while walking on the delivery street located underneath Gothenburg’s biggest shopping mall.

Over five hundred trucks and smaller vehicles pass through there every day, with deliveries to shops on the floors above. Cecilia Elb is working on a project with the goal to reduce the goods traffic coming into the city by half, by organizing the logistics in a more efficient way. The project is called SMOOTh, in which industry, academia and society will jointly develop and test a system-of-systems approach for sustainable urban goods transport.

It’s a system of systems with a dynamic decision-making algorithm for consolidation and reloading in hubs, based on a complex amount of data. The result is more fully loaded vehicles and thereby less traffic into the cities.

The system attacks the global problem of congestion and trucks without full loads going into cities. As the solution can be applied on basically any city with a growing need of efficient urban logistics, Cecilia Elb hopes that cities all over the world will be inspired by the project in Gothenburg.

"We have gained a lot of attention from various stakeholders for this project, and I think it is because it is easy to understand the problem with half-empty trucks going into our cities every day. Everyone wants less congestion, emission and noisy traffic. I think that our system-of-systems approach can help shape a more sustainable city", she says.

City scenarios

Super growth megacity

  • Example: Shanghai
  • Population: 24,237,800
  • Area: 6.341 square kilometers

Mature compressed city

  • Example: New York
  • Population: 8,398,748
  • Area: 784 square kilometers

Developing city

  • Example: Santa Cruz de la Sierra
  • Population: 1,686,375
  • Area: 326 square kilometers

Prosperous revitalized city

  • Example: Gothenburg
  • Population: 579,281
  • Area: 447 square kilometers

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