Amazing things cities are doing to fight the climate crisis

Urban forests, wooden skyscrapers and 3D-printed homes...

1. Bogotá

Is going on a bike-lane-building spree

Photograph: VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During the pandemic, Bogotá ramped up its efforts to make bike travel the norm.

In March 2020, the city laid out 84 kilometres of emergency cycle lanes to help essential staff get to work, and it will soon add another 280 kilometres of them.

Thanks to this policy, the Colombian capital already enjoys the highest bicycle usage in Latin America – and it’s sure to become even more of a cyclists’ paradise in years to come.

2. Barcelona

Banning cars from entire ‘superblocks’

Photograph: Josep Lago / AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona is famously grid-like, and the city is making the most of its unique layout to ban traffic from huge, newly created ‘superblocks’: groupings of dozens of neighbouring streets.

Cars are only allowed to drive round the perimeter of each block, essentially pedestrianising a vast swathe of the centre (and improving air quality significantly). T

he plan is to eventually create 503 superblocks that stretch right across the Catalan capital.

3. Durban

Changing lives with free cooking bags

Photograph: Wonderbag

The Global South is already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. And women are disproportionately affected. But in the South African city of Durban, officials have found a way both to help the planet and combat gender inequality.

Last year alone, it handed out 60,000 Wonderbags: essentially, big cloth holdalls you can put pots and pans in, so they continue to slow-cook food for hours after you take them off the stove.

Lower carbon emissions, loads of water saved, less indoor air pollution: win-win-win.

4. Milan

Transformed into an urban forest

Photograph: Libero_Monterisi /

Three million. That’s the magic number of trees Milan intends to plant by 2030.

That amounts to one new tree per citizen, and the city is planting them on roads, in parks and even on skyscraper balconies.

Unlike many other ‘regreening’ schemes, the city is thinking locally, pinpointing the areas with the highest temperatures and the places best located to create ‘green corridors’ to connect existing forests.

Now it wants to inspire other cities to do the same.

5. Paris

Going car-free (in the centre, at least)

Photograph: Kiran Ridley via Getty Images

Paris added tens of kilometres of new bike lanes last year, making it easier than ever to ditch your car in the City of Light.

Now it’s hoping to take things one step further – by banning most vehicles altogether in the first four arrondissements from 2022.

That would mean cars would no longer be able to drive through a massive chunk of the city, stretching all the way from the Place de la Bastille to the Place de la Concorde.

6. Tallinn

All public transport is free

Photograph: M.Pakats /

When Tallinn introduced free public transport in 2013, the climate crisis wasn’t the city’s main concern. The government initially wanted to increase the mobility of lower-income citizens, but as the emergency has worsened, the city is seeing the environmental benefits too.

Tallinn has laid the groundwork for how cities can create a working, financially viable system that prioritises mass transport over private cars – a change that is necessary to dramatically reduce emissions worldwide.

7. Basel

Planting wildflowers on every flat roof

Photograph: Shutterstock

On top of every flat roof in Basel – new and old – you’ll soon find a thriving wildflower garden.

For the past decade or so, the inner city has made it a requirement that all houses, offices and other buildings cover empty roof space with biodiverse greenery.

All that natural insulation means lower energy bills, and the scheme has also made rare birds a more frequent sight throughout the city.

8. Tokyo

Showing other cities how to cool the eff down

Photograph: Hirohito Takada /

In the lead-up to this year’s Olympic and Paralympic games, Tokyo trialled several types of cooling technology to counter the city’s sweltering summer heat.

From solar-blocking paint and misting towers to cleaner forms of air conditioning and buildings made out of wood rather than steel and concrete (like the brand-new Japan National Stadium, pictured), many of those bits of tech proved successful in reducing the ‘heat island’ effect.

As the world keeps getting warmer, the measures introduced in Tokyo are relevant to cities across the globe.

9. Amsterdam

Embracing a funny-named economic model

Photograph: Shutterstock

In Amsterdam, the government and grassroots campaigners have united to embrace the so-called ‘doughnut’ economic model – and now it is influencing all city decisions and policy-making.

The main goal is to create a viable future for the planet, while also meeting the needs of the human population: this sweet spot, the doughnut, is what all governments should be aiming for.

The result? The city has adopted a raft of ambitious targets, ranging from renewable energy and green spaces to building sustainable food systems and reducing consumption.

10. Austin

3D-printing an entire neighbourhood

Photograph: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

Why is 3D-printed housing eco-friendly, you ask? Put simply, the world population is exploding and we’re going to need loads more homes, fast.

Software and machine-based construction uses less energy, wastes fewer resources and builds properties to a higher spec than traditional building methods – so, in theory, the environment suffers far less.

Austin in Texas is building an entire neighbourhood of 3D-printed homes, hopefully setting a precedent for a more efficient and sustainable solution to the global housing crisis.

11 More Cities

Copenhagen, Vancouver, Curitiba, Buenos Aires,...

Photograph: Anna Svetlova /

Written by Huw Oliver, Ed Cunningham & Sophie Dickinson

We don’t want to point the finger, but cities have a lot to answer for when it comes to climate change.

Happily, there’s already plenty of innovative, planet-friendly stuff going on in cities large and small. Here are 21 bright ideas from around the world that could help us preserve our lush metropolitan lives for centuries to come.

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