NEWater Visitor Centre in Singapore (eco-education) / Shaun Wong / flickr.com

On the Threshold of “Green Revolution”

An interview with Ilya Zavaleev on future green technologies by Pavel Ilyichev

Read intro

An interview with Ilya Zavaleev

An interview by Pavel Ilyichev

Ilya manages consulting projects in real estate and construction for international financial institutions, banks, and real estate funds, as well as for private companies in development, construction and asset management.

In 2010 Ilya was among the first professionals to work with green building in Russia and Kazakhstan, and now he coordinates consulting services in green building certification (LEED, BREEAM). Ilya also has experience in the management of construction projects, and the design and implementation of green technologies.

Ilya graduated from Moscow State University of Civil Engineering in 2007. In 2010 he achieved a qualification in “Project management” from the Higher School of Economics. Ilya is an LEED AP BD+C (US Green Building Council) and holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute.
Hide intro

The global expert community predicts that in the next 30 – 40 years we will see a significant increase in the usage of the alternative energy sources. Based on that scenario, would you expect any revolutionary changes in the urban fabric and landscape?

I would like to start by painting an “ideal” picture of a city where green technologies have spread out to each and every part of everyday life. This will be noticeable in the landscape, as the city becomes more ecology-​oriented; the prevailing energy sources being solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuel. As a result, the air is cleaner, moving around the city becomes more pleasant, and the citizens are healthier. The green city facilitates an increase in health and productivity of the population, while the infrastructure becomes oriented more towards pedestrian movement. Therefore, the paradigm and values of the urban lifestyle themselves change; the transformation of the city affects not only the material landscape, but also positively influences ecology and the health of every citizen. In my opinion, these changes of values will not happen fast, in a revolutionary way. A slow and gradual shift, which we are actually seeing today, will probably continue – and city space will change accordingly.

This “greening of the city” (meaning, primarily, the adoption of “green technologies”) often looks like just another marketing approach, used by governments or developers to cater to the shifting tastes of the population. Nevertheless, there are many examples of green-​related strategic decisions positively affecting cities. What “green” ideas, in your opinion, could be implemented in Moscow (“green roofs”, green building, etc.)?

One of the ways to stimulate sustainable development is eco-​education, which should become common for the whole population

Moscow is a city of opportunities, but also a city of challenges. Implementation of “green” ideas requires meaningful support and conscious strategic decisions, and the city is at the very beginning of this process. From the point of view of “green technologies” development and green building in general, we focus on energy and sustainable development principles which force changes in the urban landscape and city operational system. One of the ways to stimulate such development is eco-​education, which should become common for the whole population. This education and its principles should become a part of everyday routine.

I would also include such elements as energy efficiency improvement, and the optimisation and promotion of public transportation. One of the biggest issues is that any fundamental changes will be resisted by society, which has been demonstrated time after time. Still, there is a way to deal with that issue – by openly demonstrating the advantages of new ideas through “pilot projects.” This approach allows for the testing of new ideas in urban development on a limited scale, in order to demonstrate the future improvements to the citizens.

Solar Panels / Brian Sterling

Solar Panels /​Brian Sterling /​flickr​.com

So, in your opinion, is testing the only way to check whether urban innovation will be sustainable or not? What about using references to international best practices and benchmarking?

International experience cannot really confirm the sustainability of urban projects, because there are too many important factors that are unique to each city such as its history, location, population structure and so on. Still, there are several universal trends of urban development that should be considered. Firstly, there is the concept of a “Smart City” which pays particular attention to information technologies that enable active involvement of the citizens in managing and developing their city. “Crowdsourcing” emerges as an instrument for gathering up-​to-​date information in order to consider and take into account the opinion of the widest range of stakeholders. The second concept is the “Sustainable City”. In this case, the main focus is on rational resource consumption, social responsibility and energy efficiency. The third concept in urban development is called the “Knowledge City”. The emphasis here is on attracting intellectual capital in order to develop the “Knowledge Economy”. It is important to mention that these three concepts do not contradict each other; rather, they are complementary, and their simultaneous implementation should lead to synergy effects.

I wonder if Moscow could benefit from this effect of synergy through the creation of the International Financial Centre, which is now under active discussion?

Moscow has a strong position in the global economy, but, in my opinion, the drive to achieve the status of an international financial centre is not without its flaws. The international financial centre status could be a strong driver for developing and diversification of the country – for population growth and logistic improvements between cities. Today we see high growth in the financial markets in the Asian-​Pacific region. It is centred on China, which has a long-​term relationship with Russia. Based on that, I would prefer to see the development of a financial centre in those parts of Russia closer to the Asian-​Pacific region.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof / Antonio Vernon / commons.wikipedia.org

Chicago City Hall Green Roof /​Antonio Vernon /​com​mons​.wikipedia​.org

Ilya, what would you like to change in a modern Russian city? Perhaps, you have some suggestions in terms of “green” and ecological projects?

As I see it, Russia needs to adopt more from successful foreign experience in urban development innovations. There are many great examples that city managers either do not talk about or are not aware of. For instance, I can provide an example of a new attitude to the definition of “affordable housing”. In Russia we mostly associate it with low cost and low quality. In the US the approach is different – it is called “mixed income housing”. During the development of new quality neighborhood, some dwellings are sold at lower price to people with lower incomes. This helps in solving the inequality problem and provides equal access rights to social infrastructure.

I should also mention another ongoing project, which is extremely interesting from the point of view of future urbanism. The project, located in one of the most dynamic cities on the Arabian Peninsula, is called “Dubai Sustainable City”. The idea is quite simple – to build a completely self-​sufficient city. The plan includes such innovative elements as production of all consumed energy through alternative energy sources, high effectiveness of urban planning for comfortable living, and integrated information technologies. Construction should be finished in 2015, so I hope in the nearest future we will get see this innovative “city”. Perhaps, it will become a great role model for many other urban developers.

Dubai Sustainable City (model) / x1r8 / flickr.com

Dubai Sustainable City (model) /​x1r8 /​flickr​.com

In other words, you suggest that this is what future cities could look like? What is your personal opinion on sustainable cities, and what is their future?

The cities of future are these self-​sufficient settlements that function without traditional fuel sources

When we are discussing cities, it is important to take into account that they emerge and grow within a historical process. They have been changing and transforming for centuries. The goal for the near future (2030 years) is to minimise resource consumption. With the growth of urban population it is crucial to ensure that society lives in a favourable environment. City infrastructure will change, depending on requirements of an effective consumption system, optimal transportation, the location and quality of working and living space. The cities of future are these self-​sufficient settlements that function without traditional fuel sources, which recycle most of their waste. There is special definition – “cradle-​to-​cradle” which actually means clear circulation of materials between manufacturing, consumption and nature. Within such an approach all products and materials in urban space become a part of a closed process, similar to the water cycle, which we all learned about in school.

It is essential to pay more attention to supporting and improving the city infrastructure. Non-​conventional approaches and creativity could make breakthrough changes for the city. As an example, I would suggest looking at the BMW manufacturing factory in Munich. Despite the fact that the core facilities are assembly lines, there is a special area open for visitors and tourists. As a result, by being more transparent and attractive to tourists, the company changed the Munich citizen’s attitude to the factory. This is also a part of BMW’s corporate social responsibility programme.

BMW in Munich / Albert Barnes / flickr.com

BMW in Munich /​Albert Barnes /​flickr​.com

What is your opinion regarding the idea of new cities being artificially created, as opposed to historically-​formed cities? For instance, there is an example of a commercial city in South Korea. To what extent does this answer current needs?

Cities should develop naturally and gradually over a period of time. Artificiality is an element of developers’ commercial interests. They are not thinking about the long-​term perspective of such projects. Future generations might change their values and attitude to these new cities. People will be living in those cities, but in the long-​run, the monotony and homogeneity of the urban fabric will persuade them to try and change the environment in favour of more interesting, historical cities. We can see that happening in some of the Soviet towns: they were artificially created for production or mining purposes, but eventually lost their attractiveness, as evidenced by their constant decrease of population.

Not only cities are developed by humans, but humans are also influenced and developed by the cities

Today we see the emergence of a new type of employment patterns, such as the “freelancer” which, in many cases, minimises the necessity of leaving one’s home. This promotes being in one location for long periods of time, which in the long run may provoke different negative psychological and physical consequences. Thus, it will be quite challenging to maintain citizens’ health without the rich and diverse infrastructure of the city. Not only are cities developed by humans, but humans are also influenced and developed by cities. That’s one of the main driving forces and urban values, especially in metropolises: they facilitate and encourage creative thinking, while “closed districts” contribute to narrow-​mindedness. Cities generate a creative class, inspiring new ideas and actions.

Also when the “typical city models” of these artificial cities are copied and each new city is more developed than the last, competition arises. This may lead to economic issues in old cities. However, in general, it may not necessarily be a bad thing.