The world’s cities are coming up with ingenious ways to fight climate change, from massive sea walls to “sponge zones” and floating communities. Many are already grappling with impacts such as rising sea levels and extreme weather; experiencing more frequent floods, power outages, and deadly heat waves. “The trend of climate change is a major dynamic that cities will be reckoning with over the next several decades,” says Bryna Lipper, vice president for relationships at 100 Resilient Cities, a nonprofit. With that comes a different way of thinking about both mitigating and adapting to climate change, from the roads to the treetops.
UNSINKABLE SOLUTIONS Some coastal cities, such as New York and Jakarta, are building protective sea walls. Others are creating “sponge zones” that make water an integral part of the landscape. Rotterdam’s Benthemplein Water Square actually welcomes surplus water; its basins can go from being basketball courts to ponds.
TOILET WATER TO TAPS Cities in drought-plagued Texas are being pushed to explore new frontiers of water conservation and reuse. At the Cypress Water Treatment plant in Wichita Falls, part of the intake for purification comes from the local waste treatment plant.
FLOATING NEIGHBORHOODS Rotterdam is also looking beyond recreational parks to prepare for a waterlogged future. The low-lying port city plans to build floating residential areas, and this solar-powered pavilion is a first test of the concept.
RETHINKING BUILDINGS The world’s buildings represent about a third of its energy consumption, but they don’t have to. In Freiburg, Germany, architect Rolf Disch has built what he calls plus-energy houses in his Solar Settlement. The houses generate more energy than they use.
STRATEGIC PLANTING Smart greenery like these “supertrees” in Singapore can help cities combat higher temperatures by absorbing heat and providing shade. The trees are actually intricate vertical gardens of more than 200 plant species, topped with solar panels.
RETOOLING THE ROADS In Alaska, rising temperatures and melting permafrost—the layer of soil that stays frozen all year long—are wreaking havoc with the roads. In Fairbanks, workers have installed sheets of polystyrene insulation to prevent buckling and potholes.
POWER TO THE PAVEMENT On the outskirts of Amsterdam, this path is ferrying bicyclists while also generating energy. The 100-meter (328-foot) SolaRoad, covered partly in photovoltaic cells topped with tempered glass, opened in October 2014 and has generated 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.
Credit: National Geographic