Urban Transformation

From São Paulo to Venice: 15 cities with ambitious zero-carbon projects

Waterfront villas in Almere Noorderplassen, Flevoland, The Netherlands. Caption: Almere, Netherlands, is an example of a city that has outlined zero-carbon urban plans in the 2024 Reinventing Cities competition run by global city mayor network C40.

Almere, Netherlands, is an example of a city that has outlined zero-carbon urban plans in the 2024 Reinventing Cities competition run by global city mayor network C40. Image: Unsplash/Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦

Victoria Masterson
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Cities and Urbanization

This article was first published in March 2024 and was updated in April 2024.

  • Fifteen cities have outlined zero-carbon urban plans in the 2024 Reinventing Cities competition run by global city mayor network C40.
  • Bilbao, New York, São Paulo and Venice are among the participating cities, and regeneration projects include a circular economy campus using rooftops to grow food and a 17th-century fortress run as a low-carbon community site.
  • The Global Future Council on the Future of Cities, a World Economic Forum initiative, is dedicated to helping cities become greener, more climate resilient and more affordable.

Cities play a critical role in decarbonization efforts, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions to net zero.

But they can't do it alone. That's why 40 mayors and governors in the C40 network, which exists to tackle the climate crisis, have called for City leaders multilateral development banks (MDBs) to provide essential support.

In an open letter to the presidents of 10 global and regional MDBs, the mayors asked them to help by:

1. Including urban climate action and finance in the bank's corporate and climate strategies.

2. Integrating cities and urban climate action in the country and sector assistance strategies.

3. Developing specific urban climate action programmes providing: technical assistance for project preparation and implementation; scaled-up concessional MDB finance; and enhanced support for private finance mobilization.

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Reinventing Cities, a global competition run by C40, showcases some of the efforts cities are taking to decarbonize - which could be replicated globally with greater financial backing.

Fifteen cities developing sustainable zero-carbon and resilient urban projects are featured this year – here’s an introduction to their wide-ranging green plans.

Have you read?
15 global cities will join the fourth edition of #ReinventingCities
15 cities are driving zero-carbon development in the 2024 Reinventing Cities competition. Image: Instagram/C40cities

1. Almere

The city of Almere, to the east of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is transforming an underused area of land into a zero-carbon urban renewal project providing houses and workspaces for the local community.

Almere, Netherlands.
The city of Almere in the Netherlands. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

2. Bilbao

In Spain, the historic Venerable Priests Residence, Bilbao is to be revitalized as a pioneering centre of sustainability and inclusion, with a central focus on gastronomy.

Venerable Priests Residence, Bilbao.
The Venerable Priests Residence in Bilbao, Spain. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

3. Bologna

On the eastern outskirts of Bologna in Italy, part of a former military barracks area is being regenerated to include public spaces, new services and inclusive housing designed to support young people and students.

Ex Caserma Perotti, Bologna
The former military barracks site in Bologna. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

4. Brussels

Belgium’s capital city, Brussels, is developing a site that includes vulnerable communities into a mixed-use development with “exemplary” sustainability credentials. Mixed-use developments are plans for multiple uses, including homes, businesses, and cultural activities.

LionCity II, Brussels.
The regeneration site in Brussels. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

5. Glasgow

Glasgow in Scotland plans to regenerate two sites along its canal into new neighbourhoods, developed with nature conservation and environmental resilience in mind.

Applecross Wharf, Glasgow.
One of Glasgow’s regeneration sites. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

6. Milan

A primary school and gym in Milan, Italy, will be transformed into a new urban area that showcases innovative carbon reduction, circular economy and climate adaptation approaches.

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Via Zama, Milan.
Milan’s carbon-reducing development site. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

7. New York

The US city of New York plans to transform unused rooftop spaces into places that generate green energy and “good, healthy food”.

New York, USA
New York has a green rooftop plan. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

8. Palermo

In Palermo, Italy, the site of a former chemical factory will become a new area with low environmental impact and a range of uses, such as tourist accommodation facilities and sports, leisure, cultural and craft activities.

Ex Chimica Arenella, Palermo
The former chemical site in Palermo. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities
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How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

9. Renca

Renca, a commune in the suburbs of Santiago in Chile, is developing an area of land to attract businesses with a focus on the circular economy, eco-design and environmental technologies and training.

Renca.
The development site in Renca. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

10. Rome

Rome, Italy’s capital city, plans to regenerate a 1930s public building into an urban renewal hub focused on environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and sustainable construction.

Ex Casa del Fascio, Rome.
Rome’s Reinventing Cities regeneration site. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

11. San Antonio

San Antonio, in the US State of Texas, plans to reinvest in existing buildings to create a “first-of-its-kind” circular economy campus focused on cultivating a green workforce, improving public health and advancing affordable housing repair and production.

The Material Innovation Center, San Antonio
A new circular economy campus is planned for San Antonio. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

12. San Francisco

Several underused downtown buildings in the Californian city of San Francisco, US, are being transformed into “reimagined and sustainable spaces”, for both housing and commercial use.

170 Otis Street, San Fransisco.
One of San Francisco’s redevelopment sites. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

13. São Paulo

São Paulo in Brazil plans to develop healthier and more welcoming public spaces that help the city tackle its environmental and social challenges.

Tucuruvi, Sao Paulo
One of São Paulo’s regeneration sites. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

14. Seattle

Seattle, in the US State of Washington, plans to redevelop a former shipping site into an area that supports the city’s downtown recovery. Green services and maritime training are among the facilities it plans to host.

WOSCA Site, Seattle
Seattle’s former shipping site. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

15. Venice

A 17th-century fortress in Venice, Italy, has been selected for conversion into a new community site – to be developed in line with low-carbon principles and offering cultural, museum, sports and other activities.

Forte Sant'Andrea, Venice
Part of the fortress site in Venice. Image: C40 Reinventing Cities

Cities need zero-carbon plans for the future

Sustainable and inclusive urban development is the core focus of the Global Future Council on the Future of Cities – a World Economic Forum initiative dedicated to helping cities become greener, more climate resilient and also more affordable.

Cities are responsible for more than 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the Forum says. And by 2050, they will also be home to 70% of the world's population – with much of this expansion taking place in the developing world.

These factors make cities extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and it’s therefore imperative that all urban areas drive climate innovation, adaptation, and resilience.

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Urban TransformationClimate Action
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