Heatwaves raise questions for urban areas, and other city-focused stories you need to read

A person walking holds an umbrella by the Milan's Duomo cathedral at Duomo square, as temperatures soar during a heatwave in Milan, Italy.
Cities across Southern Europe are facing intense heatwaves.
Image: REUTERS/Massimo Pinca
  • This monthly round-up brings you some of the latest news on cities and urbanization.
  • Top stories: Heatwaves prompt policy rethinks in European cities; Neurodiverse neighbourhood moves step closer in Arkansas; Urban power grids under threat from rising temperatures.
  • For more on the World Economic Forum’s city-focused work, visit the Urban Transformation Hub.

1. Heatwaves raise questions for cities

Intense heatwaves across the northern hemisphere are raising urgent questions about the way cities operate. Some are already looking at policy changes to adapt to increasingly frequent high temperatures brought about by the climate crisis.

Car use is being discouraged in the Spanish city of Valladolid, with the mayor's office saying vehicles with combustion engines are exacerbating high ozone levels caused by the heatwave. It marks something of a reversal for the city's new coalition government, which had recently said it would cut back the size of Valladolid's low-emission zone.

Germany's government is considering introducing siestas for workers. The midday breaks are common in traditionally warmer areas of Southern Europe. Extreme heat is a risk for 200 million people in urban areas and this figure is expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2050, but few cities currently have rules on maximum safe working temperatures, the Financial Times reports.

Air temperatures at 2 metres above the earth's surface.
Temperatures have been soaring across the northern hemisphere.
Image: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

This is already affecting tourism, a major income source for many cities. In Italy, tourists in Rome have been heading home early because of the heat. It comes after the country's environment ministry said earlier this year that rising temperatures are likely to result in tourists travelling in spring and autumn rather than the summer, and choosing cooler destinations.

Greece was forced to close the Acropolis, which draws around 17,000 visitors a day, as temperatures reached 45°C in Athens.

The ways cities are built also need to be considered, given the possibility of steel warping in high temperatures. Concrete also becomes more difficult to use in warm weather as it will set faster, the FT reports.

Buildings with green facades, such as Kö-Bogen II in the German city of Düsseldorf, could become more common. Kö Bogen II has Europe's largest green facade, with 30,000 hornbeam hedges on its surface. This helps to cool the surrounding area and improve air quality.

2. Neurodiverse neighbourhood moves step closer in Arkansas

The South Cato Springs project, located just outside Fayetteville in the US state of Arkansas, aims to bring together housing, services, clinical care and employment opportunities suited to neurodiverse adults.

"Mindful urbanism" is at the heart of the project, according to developer OSD. The site works to integrate the surrounding landscape – such as mountains and forests – and features walkable and bikeable mixed-use neighborhoods, as well as sustainable communities.

South Cato Springs plan.
'Mindful urbanism' is at the heart of the South Cato Springs project.
Image: SLS Community

Neurodiverse people can face difficulties in processing their environment because of sensory overload. Groups such as the Autism Housing Network aim to help people on the autism spectrum find living environments better suited to their needs.

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan says South Cato Springs "is significant because it's striving to tackle a significant issue, and that is ensuring our neurodiverse residents get the health care, job-skill training, employment and housing opportunities they deserve".

Infrastructure work is due to start this year and the development is expected to take 10-15 years to complete.

3. News in brief: Other top cities and urbanization stories this month

Flooding is hitting several Chinese cities because of intense summer storms. The drainage systems in China's heavily built-up megacities may face problems coping with the influx of water, prompting work to clear drain outlets on roadsides before the rainfall arrived.

Floods have also struck India's ancient holy cities of Vrindavan and Mathura, after heavy rainfall in northern India led to the Yamuna river breaching its banks. Water levels were waist-high in some areas, and thousands of residents were evacuated.

SUV drivers in Paris will face higher parking fees from 1 January 2024, as the city looks to cut pollution. The exact level of the fee has not been revealed, but it will be determined by the vehicle's size, weight and engine capacity, UK newspaper The Guardian reports.

Self-driving cars are moving back up the agenda in the US, with lawmakers looking to reboot work on regulation held up for more than five years. A congressional hearing on safe vehicle use will occur on 26 July.

Centre: Urban Transformation

How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

The Data for the City of Tomorrow report highlighted that in 2023, around 56% of the world is urbanized. Almost 65% of people use the internet. Soon, 75% of the world’s jobs will require digital skills.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Urban Transformation is at the forefront of advancing public-private collaboration in cities. It enables more resilient and future-ready communities and local economies through green initiatives and the ethical use of data.

Learn more about our impact:

  • Net Zero Carbon Cities: Through this initiative, we are sharing more than 200 leading practices to promote sustainability and reducing emissions in urban settings and empower cities to take bold action towards achieving carbon neutrality.
  • G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance: We are dedicated to establishing norms and policy standards for the safe and ethical use of data in smart cities, leading smart city governance initiatives in more than 36 cities around the world.
  • Empowering Brazilian SMEs with IoT adoption: We are removing barriers to IoT adoption for small and medium-sized enterprises in Brazil – with participating companies seeing a 192% return on investment.
  • IoT security: Our Council on the Connected World established IoT security requirements for consumer-facing devices. It engages over 100 organizations to safeguard consumers against cyber threats.
  • Healthy Cities and Communities: Through partnerships in Jersey City and Austin, USA, as well as Mumbai, India, this initiative focuses on enhancing citizens' lives by promoting better nutritional choices, physical activity, and sanitation practices.

Want to know more about our centre’s impact or get involved? Contact us.

The Dutch capital Amsterdam is banning cruise ships from its centre, saying they do not align with its sustainable ambitions. It follows other moves by the city to reduce visitor numbers, including a campaign urging men to hold pre-wedding parties elsewhere.

One of the Philippines' largest cities is to receive a $1 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank to fund a low-carbon bus programme. Davao will use the money to buy more than 1,000 electric buses, as well as build new terminals and bus stops.

Increasing levels of apartment construction in the US could lead to a drop in rental costs, helping to bring inflation under control. Rent prices rose by 8% on the year in June, making up 70% of the increase in the consumer price index.

Inner cities will be the focus of a UK housing construction drive that aims to build 1 million homes. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he wants to build homes "where there is the most need".

Office buildings in Australia are undergoing price downgrades because of a combination of higher interest rates and people continuing to work remotely following the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. More on urban transformation on Agenda

The number of people living in cities has quadrupled in the past 50 years to around 4.5 billion in 2022. This is why cleaner cities are key to solving the climate crisis. Here are some of the strategies that could help make that happen.

New Delhi could be the world's largest city by the end of the decade. How can its increasingly congested metro keep up? Well-considered policy decisions and private-sector investment will be crucial.

Migrants sent almost $650 billion home to low- and middle-income countries in 2022 – three times more than total overseas development aid for the year. This money has been critical in helping cities in these nations fund recovery efforts from extreme weather events, but also underlines how more needs to be done to direct climate funding to these cities.

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