Altair and Sweco working to tackle climate change through sustainable cities

Mark Warren from Sweco joined us earlier this week to discuss working with Altair to tackle climate change through building a future of new sustainable cities like Green City Kigali. The growing capital of Rwanda Kigali, is to become a centre of urban excellence, integrating green building and design, efficient and renewable energy, recycling and inclusive living.

Green City Kigali is creating a paradigm shift in terms of urbanisation in Rwanda, and the larger East African region too, through the development of Africa’s first green city. It is an area experiencing the highest levels of urbanisation in the world, but will achieve developments that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.

Mark has been on the project since its beginning and we wanted to talk with him about the green agenda, the affordability challenges, and the lessons we can learn from our project.

To kick off, we asked Mark to explain just how green the city will be:

The city aims to take in as many aspects of sustainability as it can. The big ones are the use of local and sustainable materials in the construction of buildings, smart and efficient design to minimise use of building materials in the first place,and makes use of existing assets such as ventilation, natural light, the heating cooling of the local environment. Rwanda has a very comfortable environment which makes this easier. And environmentally sustainable infrastructure such as solar power harvesting, rainwater, sustainable urban drainage systems as well as transport development that also limits the use of private cars.

What considerations ensure Green City Kigali is inclusive?

To be inclusive, the city must be truly affordable. Altair has developed a great model that provides affordable types of housing for almost all income groups existing in Kigali. Usually only the wealthy can afford to live in formal housing developments in Rwanda. Middle and lower income families tend to live in informal developments. But this model enables Kigali to provide affordable housing for middle and lower income, both for purchase and for rent.

How is it possible to keep these projects affordable and green?

Green technologies can come at a premium in many scenarios, but we’ve designed the city using simple technologies that take advantage of the local climate and the topographical context. Rwanda’s climate makes it easier; other countries, especially in Africa, would be more of a challenge. The plans include using natural lights, ventilation, heating, cooling, and then at the larger infrastructure level, using the topography to our advantage, and focusing on low energy systems.

Altair are the sub consultants on the project leading on finance, economic and the legal side of things. The team undertook the initial feasibility analysis as regards housing affordability, housing and commercial property contexts and needs to resolve various issues around limitation and affordability.

Determining financial feasibility of the project has not just been focused at a construction and sales level, but also over a long term, 25 years or so. In addition, Altair have also been charged with designing and establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that will oversee the developments and managements and can be applied to other developing countries.

The project is a pilot to be replicated across other cities. One part of the programme Altair has been working on that could definitely be applied in other developing countries is the mortgage assistance programme, a concept of which we’re calling Help To Own.

What lessons can we learn to support sustainable urbanization globally?

In developing countries you have high economic and population growth, but a low starting point in terms of energy and resource consumption. In the developed world, you have slower population and economic growth, but you’re starting from a point of very high per capita energy consumption. So in the developed world, it’s about reducing energy use, which is a big change. Whereas in developing countries it’s about keeping the resource consumption very low, but also having to handle those high rates of growth sustainably.

How has Kigali managed to get all the stakeholders on board, putting the sustainability first, presumably before some economic success?

Choosing Rwanda for the location of the pilot project was not by accident. More so than a lot of other countries, Rwanda has an efficient bureaucracy that is open to progressive ideas like this. Plus it has a developed policy framework, as well as government agencies that are mandated to follow that policy, which makes things much more straightforward.

Nonetheless, we’re in the planning stage now. As the project moves towards implementation, we’ll start to see various stakeholders with competing interests coming out and making their opinion heard.

The way to avoid any issues coming at that stage is having a very open and progressive stakeholder engagement strategy.

Is there anything you think we can do to help the awareness and growth of more sustainable development globally?

Keep people aware of the situation through things like Urban October. Rapid urbanisation has been an issue for a while and as our population continues to grow, the silent cries of the past 10 years regarding issues of climate change have started to become more of a scream. They will become even louder over the next 10 years. It’s now really important to develop toolkits that work so they can be deployed elsewhere efficiently. As Green City Kigali moves into detailed design and construction to make this vision a reality, other countries can learn the lessons and follow suit.

To hear this discussion in full, click below to listen.

To find out more about Altair International please click here, and to understand more about the plans for Green City Kigali click here to view a short video.