Sustainable Cities. How can we help to achieve them after Covid-19 crisis?

In the series of articles by our Youth Newsroom reporters, María Fernanda Fuentes Díaz looks at the effects Covid-19 has had for the environment. And it isn't all that bad. But how to sustain that?

Last year was a very different and difficult year. The global disruption caused by COVID-19 has brought about several effects on the economy and changed our lifestyle and the different social dynamics around the world. However,paradoxically, this situation has apparently also left some positive effects on the environment. Due to movement restriction and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities,  polluting gas emissions decreased. The air quality has improved in many cities and we even “gave a break” to certain natural areas in such a way that many species of animals returned to unexpected places.

According to the BBC, analysis from the specialized portal Carbon Brief indicated that CO2 emissions decreased between 4% and 8% during the first half of 2020. Anyway, this is a temporary reduction. There is a very great possibility that as we get closer and closer to "normality" and the attempt to reactivate the economy and production processes will put the pressures back on the environment.Maybe even stronger.

This is why I want to share some strategies that we could take into account to achieve more sustainable cities in the near future.

1. Redefine our conception of "development"

Usually, we fall into the error of believing that development is only economic growth. But during the pandemic, we witnessed great inequality in something as basic as the social protection system in some countries like mine, Colombia. This is why we need to think about a world after COVID-19 that allows us to contemplate a new development model that takes into account and encourages the growth of different areas: social, environmental, economic, political and cultural.

2. Promote local consumption

This is important because when the quarantine began in different parts of my country, we had to face the shortage of products or the rise in their price. Whereas if we had proactively promoted local development and consumption before, we would not have had to worry about this situation because we would already have sustainable cities and resilient territories.

Additionally, unlike large-scale mass productions, local production in general uses fewer resources and cleaner productions, so its environmental impacts are lower. And additionally, when we buy locally, the products do not have to travel long distances to be in our hands, so the impacts associated with transportation are also less.

3. Encourage biking

The mobility sector is responsible for generating a quarter of the polluting gas emissions which contribute to climate change in the world. For this reason, it is necessary to move towards sustainable mobility alternatives that do not generate emissions, such as electric vehicles, mainly for mass mobility. But, looking at the current living situation we are experiencing, people are advised not to share the same vehicle. Therefore, the bicycle is our best option!

4. Conserve and create green spaces

Green spaces, both in public areas and in houses or buildings, have great environmental benefits. They help to regulate temperatures, capture carbon dioxide, and generate oxygen. Green spaces are shelters for many species and help prevent soil erosion, because they cover the ground, and in the case of trees, their roots are fixed in the ground in such a way that they contribute to its retention. Also, during confinement many of us miss natural spaces, going out to a park or climbing a mountain, that is why green spaces also contribute to our mental health.

Colombian children who joined #SemillasDeEsperanza

5. Efficient use of resources

Now that the dynamics have changed and many of us spend more time at home, it is necessary to have good practices and make efficient use of the resources that we depend on. Close the water tap when you are not using it, turn off the appliances when you do not need them and do not forget to unplug your chargers when they are not in use.

6. Be responsible consumers

Let us not buy more than we need. Remember the year that passed, we realized that in most times, what really matters are not material things, we learned to miss a hug or a meeting. So stop buying what you do not need.

Likewise, every time you buy a product, it is necessary to be responsible for the waste that you generate: take advantage of wastes that can be reused, give your waste a second chance. Separate waste correctly at the source to allow them to be recycled. In the case of organic waste, use practices such as composting.

Finally, but very important and transversal to all the previous points is that we need companies and governments to commit to sustainability. But we also need conscious citizens who demand and choose this lifestyle. Never underestimate the power of your actions and decisions because small individual actions, if they become collective actions, can generate big changes. Make a difference, the planet needs a change, but it has to start now. So start and inspire others with your example.

If you want to contribute to these environmental benefits but also use your free time doing something different, I invite you to explore the world of urban agriculture. You can start growing your own food or at least part of it at home using the seeds of the food you eat. You can reuse waste as containers for your plants, take advantage of rainwater for irrigation, and make your own composting. There are so many activities that can turn your free time into something fun, all the while helping the planet.

If you do not know how or where to start, check this guide of my campaign #SemillasDeEsperanza (Seeds of Hope). It started during confinement, and I have been sharing all this time content on my social networks where I give some tips about how to grow your own food. Join us!

María Fernanda Fuentes Díaz