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Romain Pison: Creating thriving cities in the face of climate challenges

Romain Pison says our cities’ infrastructure needs a big update and we should start by looking at the risks climate change brings and make those a core part of city planning.

Photo courtesy of Romain Pison
Photo courtesy of Romain Pison

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

As the grip of the climate crisis tightens around the globe, cities — the pulsing hearts of civilization — are on the front lines of an increasingly volatile environmental landscape. With the planet’s urban population burgeoning at an unprecedented rate, the infrastructure and the lifeblood of cities — their streets — are facing a level of strain that demands an urgent and innovative response. Romain Pison, an entrepreneur and decarbonization specialist with a strong focus on ESG and green infrastructure, stands at the forefront of this urban revolution, calling for a radical transformation to ensure cities not only endure but flourish amid the looming threats of climate change.

The imperative for change in urban landscapes

Romain Pison stresses that our cities must change to keep up with the new realities of climate change. He sees the extreme weather — like intense heat, rising sea levels, and heavy rains that our current roads and drains can’t handle — as a loud wake-up call. We have to completely rethink the way we plan and build our cities.

Our cities’ infrastructure needs a big update. Pison says we should start by looking at the risks climate change brings and make those a core part of city planning. Cities might need to pull back from places that are at high risk of flooding or find natural ways to deal with the rising sea. Buildings may need changes to handle hotter and colder temperatures, and we might need to remake the paths water takes in the city to stop floods from doing too much damage.

Romain Pison believes we need to turn our cities into places that can deal with the climate changes we’re seeing. This includes having places in the city where water can soak into the ground, green roofs that can catch rainwater, and even places underground to store water when there’s too much of it. For energy, cities need to keep cool naturally, maybe by making more shade and using materials that don’t hold on to heat. This helps fight against the “heat island” effect, where cities get hotter than the areas around them.

In short, Romain Pison is telling us to rebuild our cities with climate transition in mind. That means new infrastructure and energy systems that are ready for the climate challenges of today and tomorrow. He’s asking for a shift in how we see and build our cities — so that they’re not just surviving the climate crisis but are also ready to move forward into a new climate-friendly era.

Romain Pison: For a sustainable, inclusive future, the transformation of our urban landscapes is non-negotiable

Against the backdrop of these challenges, Pison’s advocacy for change is both a mission and a dire necessity. “Our cities are living entities,” Pison explains. “And just like any living organism, they must adapt to survive. Our streets are more than just transportation routes, they are potential tools in our fight against climate adversity.”

The transformative solution that Pison and other experts propose lies within the realms of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS), which reimagine the urban landscape. SuDS offer a means of managing rainwater more effectively, in tune with nature’s own mechanisms, to alleviate flood risks. Beyond SuDS, Pison champions a broader spectrum of strategies: green infrastructures, which include the strategic planting of trees and the creation of permeable surfaces, all in service of a resilient urban ecosystem.

The urban design paradigm shift

Pison articulates a future where green spaces are integrated into the urban fabric not just for recreational or aesthetic purposes but as fundamental components of a city’s resilience strategy. “Landscaping isn’t merely about beautifying a city,” Pison asserts. “It’s about equipping it to handle the environmental challenges of tomorrow.”

Urban design is on the cusp of a paradigm shift. City planners and policymakers are increasingly recognizing the value of Biodiversity Net Gains—ensuring that new developments contribute more to local ecosystems than they subtract. Pison’s vision extends beyond incremental change; he envisions a complete systemic overhaul, where every new building, street, and park is an integral thread in the larger tapestry of a climate-resilient city.

Facing Economic Realities and Shifting Mindsets

Romain Pison’s call for action on climate resilience is set against a backdrop of financial forecasts that signal trouble ahead. He draws attention to the results from the Prudential Regulation Authority’s first climate stress tests, which indicate that without intervention, the economic landscape could look bleak by mid-century. Financial institutions like banks and insurance companies might find themselves in a quagmire of losses unless there’s a pivot to forward-thinking urban design and climate adaptation measures.

Pison points out that this isn’t just a matter of economics—it’s about shifting a collective mindset. He notes that for too long, the drive for urban growth has been tinged with a preference for concrete expansion at the expense of green spaces and sustainability. Changing this entrenched view isn’t simple. It calls for a concerted effort that addresses several key areas, all of which are interconnected in what Pison and reports like the World Bank’s (Mukim, Megha (ed.); Roberts, Mark (ed.). 2023. Thriving: Making Cities Green, Resilient, and Inclusive in a Changing Climate. © Washington, DC : World Bank) highlight as critical elements for sustainable urban development. These elements extend beyond conventional strategies, asking for a comprehensive framework that marries practicality with visionary thinking.

Firstly, Romain Pison agrees with the importance of ‘Information,’ advocating for the use of detailed data to guide informed decisions in disaster management and to carve out a more resilient urban framework. This knowledge helps in forecasting risks and crafting areas that can better respond to environmental stress.

Next, there is the importance of ‘Incentives,’ underlining the role of economic and policy incentives in nudging both individuals and enterprises towards environmentally friendly practices. These incentives can tip the scales, making it economically viable for people to choose greener options.

‘Insurance’ is another critical factor. Pison believes in bolstering financial mechanisms to aid areas hit by climate disasters. These funds can be pivotal in not only providing immediate relief but also in ensuring the availability of capital for future-proofing cities against similar events.

Pison also advocates for ‘Integration,’ where cities work in tandem, sharing knowledge and resources. This unity can streamline efforts to mitigate climate impacts, fostering a more unified front against shared threats.

Lastly, the focus on ‘Investments’ is crucial. Pison is also convinced that directing funding into sustainable infrastructure is non-negotiable. The objective is to channel resources towards projects that are designed to endure and thrive amidst the predicted climatic shifts.

Pison’s message is clearly formulated in his most recent book: GREEN HORIZONS: My Journey Through Asia’s Urban Transformation Towards Sustainability. (2023). (n.p.): Romain Pison, where he explains that adopting these strategies is essential for creating urban environments that are not just survivable but sustainable. By encompassing these factors into urban planning, cities can turn the tide against the impending challenges posed by climate change.

Measuring the impact of transformation

The success of these initiatives, Pison explains, can be measured by tangible metrics: a decrease in flood incidences, the thriving of urban biodiversity, and the palpable improvement in air quality, to name a few. But the overarching metric of success is the vision of cities that not only survive but thrive.

The road ahead

Romain Pison is poised to reiterate his rallying cry for urban transformation. “We have the knowledge, the technology, and the means,” Pison declares. “What we need now is the collective will to enact change.”

His insights offer a roadmap for urban areas across the globe. It’s a call to arms that resonates with the urgency of now, propelling cities to pivot from being climate change victims to becoming havens of sustainability and resilience. Romain Pison’s voice is just one among many, but it echoes the sentiments of a growing movement that sees the reformation of our urban landscapes not as a choice, but an imperative for a sustainable, thriving future.

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Written By

Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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