As the world warms, it’s also getting more urban - more than half the world’s population now lives in and around cities. So when it comes to sustainable living, cities pose a growing challenge.
In one sense, cities have a lot going for them - good public transit, efficient power distribution, and a density that means you often don’t need cars to get around. Plus, living and working in tall buildings rather than spread-out exurbs saves a huge amount of energy per person. But cities also have one big problem: they’re already built. We can invent all the green technologies we like, but we can’t tear down blocks full of drafty old structures and start from scratch - to say nothing of the networks of streets lined with wiring, pipes, and tunnels that might be decades, even centuries old. The problem is especially acute in older cities such as Boston.
So how to improve the cities we’ve got? The answer: retrofitting. In the past several years, engineers, urban planners, and entrepreneurs have come up with imaginative new ways to take what we now know about living more energy-efficiently, and grafting that technology onto cities without clearing away what’s already there. Here are some ideas already being tried, including some that might work in Boston.
Michael Fitzgerald is a writer living in Millis.