Our cities and their systems of energy, water, food, transport, shelter, and information are dependent on large flows of fossil fuel-based energy. This dependency must change, urgently, to deal with the impacts of climate change and peak oil.
Cities account for 75% of global energy demand – they are the structural engines of the form of economic growth that now threatens our future prosperity. Cities also have to deal with changes to the climate and extreme weather events – floods, droughts, heat-waves, storms – all increasingly beyond historical experience.
Cities are also a focus of great hope – their vitality and their diversity of social interactions can provide the creative force for the development of a post-fossil fuel future.
Historic cities, which preserve many layers of history in the physical form of their built environment, face particular challenges. In the coming period of transformation they will confront a tension between historic preservation and future-driven innovation and growth.
Florence is a ‘prime’ example of such an historic city – a global cultural resource – with a population of approximately 370,000 inhabitants (1.5 million including the surrounding area). The city is revered as the ‘birthplace’ of the Italian Renaissance; it became a major force for the modernization of Europe during the 14th through 16th centuries. UNESCO named Florence a World Heritage Site in 1982. Today it is an iconic tourist city-museum with tens of millions of tourists per year. Its challenging future is evident from its difficulties in dealing with extended heat-waves in summer and a long drought, unusual snow falls in winter and its perpetual vulnerability to flood. Innovation and transformation cannot be delayed.
Current mayor, Matteo Renzi, said: “In the relationship between the past and the future can we find a key that strengthens our innovativeness rather than feeds the pessimistic stagnation so rampant today?”