The Future of Making Sustainable Cities: CityAge Conference Recap

Jonathan Rowe | June 10, 2015


Cities account for 70% of global GDP, 70% of energy use, and will house 70% of the world’s population by 2050. How we build–and rebuild–our cities will shape the future and drive economic growth and innovation for a generation.

The CityAge conference in Los Angeles explored the investments, partnerships and ideas that are shaping our urban century. Autodesk was there to share our vision for the future of making smart, sustainable cities, and learn from a network of city builders from the private and public sectors. Here’s a recap.

The Future of Sustainable Cities

Emma Stewart, head of Autodesk’s Sustainability Solutions team, gave a keynote titled Intergenerational Infrastructure that called out today’s lack of long term investment strategies as short-changing our children’s future and saddling them with unhealthy infrastructure.

Why is this? Cities leaders often  focus on politically expedient projects. Voters go for the cheapest projects to build and maintain. And designers often focus on building projects at lowest first cost and without headline-worthy delays. These problems mirror some of those within our healthcare system. Doctors treat symptoms rather than root causes, give preference to short-term fixes at the expense of long-term health, and treat after crisis instead of employing preventative means.

Autodesk have set ourselves a goal of changing this. We’re working to help city officials set performance-based targets that are good for society (C-FACT for Cities), prompt designers to simulate which projects help reach those targets (Green Stormwater Infrastructure), secure support from citizens and investors fully informed of the costs and benefits of those projects (Autocase), and then monitor and verify progress (Operational Energy Management with Panoramic Power).



The Future of Transportation

There are 30 million flights and 15 million car trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles each year, accounting for 1 in 5 flights out of the Bay Area. The California High Speed Rail and Hyperloop aim to dramatically cut that number to address California’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation.

But while striving to achieve similar environmental benefits, the projects are very different. Some major differences are in cost (HSR has a price tag of $68B, Hyperloop $16B), speed (HSR peaks at 250 mph, Hyperloop at 760 mph), community acceptance (HSR would boost the economy of towns along its path, but fragment high-quality agricultural land; while Hyperloop wouldn’t stop between San Francisco and LA but also wouldn’t affect agriculture).

The Hyperloop may involve a pipe, but it’s not a pipedream. UCLA and Hyperloop Technologies are actively designing the entire system–from pipe, to interiors, to stations–and Kings County will be the site for the test track. Today’s visions for Hyperloop are a bit different from how Autodesk envisioned it back in 2013.

Image Credit: HTT

The Future of Financing and Incentivizing Green Infrastructure

According to the Head of Public Finance and Infrastructure for Goldman Sachs, governments have been great at funding new infrastructure, but not at maintaining it. In contrast, the private sector is often happy to invest in maintenance, but needs to be paid back. The single most important way to attract private sector funding is full life cycle costing. “In Canada, any project over $50M now does an open-book side-by-side comparison of the full life cycle costs,” according to a Partner at Table Rock Capital.

Life cycle costing is a way to get private investors interested. But what kinds of incentives can spur owners and design teams to create more efficient projects?

California’s Savings By Design program–which UCLA and many California community colleges insist on implementing for new building projects–is one attempt to do just that. It encourages owners to invest in energy efficiency, and provides financial incentives (between $0.10 – $0.30 per annualized kWh of savings) for exceeding California’s Title 24 energy code. Savings By Design also deepens the incentive for owners to install energy monitoring equipment to track building performance over time. Further, it compensates design teams–up to $50k, depending on the level of savings–for using energy simulation tools to model and optimize their designs.


Stay tuned to the Sustainability Solutions Blog for more conference recaps, and check out the Connect page to follow us on social media and sign up for our quarterly newsletter.

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