Cities of the Future: Sustainability, Community and High-Tech Agriculture in Bali and Mexico

Cities of the Future: Sustainability, Community and High-Tech Agriculture in Bali and Mexico

Imagine a sustainable futuristic city. Lush green areas, state-of-the-art buildings, eco-friendly means of transport, solar panels, and grocery stores with fresh and glossy greens are the first pictures that come to your mind.

If you take a trip to Songdo in South Korea or Masdar in the UAE, you will witness it firsthand. These are both brand new projects that have put their cities on the world map. Songdo was constructed back in 2015, while Masdar is set to welcome its first residents by 2025. However, a city of the future does not always mean it has to be built from scratch. Cities like Canberra (Australia), Madrid (Spain), and Wellington (New Zealand) are leading the way in different rankings for sustainable, smart cities.

When we talk about the city of the future, sustainable city, and smart city, each has its own nuances depending on the core of their concept and mission. But one thing is for sure: any future city should be a facilitator of transformation and regeneration.

The Tehuantepec Smart City project in Mexico and Nuanu, a city of the future in Bali, Indonesia, are two standout examples of projects aimed at creation of the cities that make an impact.

iFarm spoke to Sergio Garnelo Cortes, CEO of Opus 2G Group, Jazmin López Incio, industrial engineer in Opus 2G Group (Mexico), and Nuanu’s Chief Project Director James Larkin, and Audria Evelinn, Head of Nature Team in Nuanu (Indonesia), to understand what their cities of the future will look like, and what role sustainable high-tech agriculture and vertical farming will play in urban areas.

Nuanu City in Bali: Regenerative mindset for harmony

Living in harmony with one another and nature is one of the key ideas of Nuanu project. Sprawled across 44 hectares of prime beachfront in the traditional regency of Tabanan, Nuanu, a new city of the future in Bali, is inspired and driven by its residents.
“At Nuanu, we want to explore new ways to connect deeply, discover potential that has not yet been imagined, and develop the dream space that has not yet been built. There are many reasons to think that Bali is a potential place to try to develop a new way of living. Balinese have been living in harmony for centuries following the rules of Tri Hita Karana or the three causes of Happiness: Pleasure, Challenge and Meaning,” says James Larkin, Nuanu’s Chief Project Director.
Meaningful regeneration is the heart of the project. The Nuanu community aims at increasing the system’s ability to self-renew by methods, techniques, and practices that support living systems acting in symbiotic exchanges.
“It is beyond sustainable, beyond 'eco-buildings' and functional green practices. Our aim is an ever-evolving regenerative living systems game that integrates ecological harmony, community connectivity, and creative innovation in a way that models potential at points of transformation.” says James Larkin.
On the edge of the Indian Ocean, Nuanu comprises nine areas for residents and guests, including zones for education, residential areas, co-creation, wellness and health, and regenerative food production.
Cities of the future Nuanu concept

The Head Building - Concept. Nuanu.

Source: Nuanu.

The built areas of Nuanu occupy just 25% of the total space, with the remaining 75% devoted to ecological landscaping. Thus, Nuanu is bringing back the lost wildlife habitat and harmonizing the relationship between urban development and the place it is built upon.

Construction for Nuanu began in 2020, with the first phase of covering the coastal area of Nyanyi beach set to open in 2023.

The entire city is expected to be constructed within 5 to 7 years, although James notes that “the project of this nature will most likely always be in a continuous process of development and transformation.”

Smart City of Tehuantepec in Mexico: Transforming the South

Moving to the other side of the world, Mexico, Latin America's 2nd-largest economy, is divided into two opposite realities: the wealthy North and Center, and nine extremely poor Southern and Southeastern states. According to El Centro de Estudios Espinosa Yglesias (CEEY), only 35% of the population in the South of Mexico have overcome poverty, compared to 70% in the North.
Sergio Garnelo Cortes, CEO of Opus 2G Group, states, "The standard of living is on par with neighboring Central American countries, Guatemala and Belize. It is absurd that despite being rich in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons, the region has the highest poverty rate in Mexico. This part of Mexico is also rich in sustainable energy resources, it has promising agricultural and livestock sectors as well as historical and cultural heritage attractiveness for tourism development."
Efforts for economic development in the area include El Corredor Interoceánico del Istmo de Tehuantepec (CIIT), a federal project that was hailed as an "emblem" of the current Mexican government. It consists of connecting the port of Santa Cruz (Pacific Ocean) in Oaxaca with Coatzacoalcos (the Gulf of Mexico) in Veracruz at the narrowest part of the country. A railway connecting the two would provide faster access to the Panama Canal, bolstering economic growth of Mexico's poorest regions.

Re-launched in 2019, the CIIT involves the creation of a special economic zone. The Smart Industrial Corridor (Corredor Industrial Inteligente), named after Mexico's first indigenous president, Benito Juárez, is the transformation point.

The corridor comprises heavy industries such as chemicals, energy, and agriculture. It is set to create approximately 75,000 jobs in its initial phase, requiring the development of basic services and, of course, housing - to attract human capital to the region.

To house over 170,000 people, the Smart City of Tehuantepec will be built from scratch, 40 km away from the Salina Cruz port in Oaxaca. The construction of the Smart City of Tehuantepec is set to start in 2026.
Smart City of Tehuantepec Mexico Opus 2G

The Smart City of Tehuantepec - Concept.

Source: Opus 2G Group.

“The intention is to organize and carefully plan the city for its future residents taking into account Industry 4.0 principles of digital transformation and the circular economy. The Smart City aims to fulfill all necessities and provide housing, transportation, healthcare, and education for the entire generation attracted by the project. It is an opportunity for us to revitalize this part of Mexico with the latest technological advancements.” says Jazmin López Incio, industrial engineer in Opus 2G Group.
The holding will construct the Smart City of Tehuantepec and provide a 30-years development plan for the whole municipality of Santo Domingo de Tehuantepec in Oaxaca. “We want to support them and set a good example to each of the other municipalities that will be part of the project.”  sheconcludes.

The two pillars of the cities of future: sustainability and community

Balancing economic growth, environmental care, and social well-being is the key principle of sustainable development. It aims to meet the present needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations.

Given that the world's population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, it is crucial for future cities to prioritize sustainable growth as their core value and mission. Energy is a critical topic in this context and is a major focus of debate and discovery.
“What we are currently exploring is solar and bioenergy,” points out Audria Evelinn, Head of Nature Team in Nuanu. “We have also discovered the possibility to use organic waste as biomass to create renewable energy. The main benefits of this approach are two-fold: not only does it provide a clean and renewable source of energy, but it also diverts potentially harmful waste away from landfills.”
He adds that despite long-term benefits of this energy source, there are still current challenges that have to be addressed, such as proper collection and segregation of waste, investment in infrastructure, land use regulations, and technology.
The city of the future design green areas Nuanu

The city of the future Nuanu - Concept.

Source: Nuanu.

Besides moving towards net zero and zero waste practices, Nuanu is experimenting with new ideas and metrics in sustainability to model potential beyond the 2030 UN SDGs.
“Successful ecosystems in nature have positive or symbiotic exchanges between all elements. Similarly, our Nuanu ecosystem consists of 'nested layers' within the Nuanu boundary. It's an idea to group layers that work together as a unit group, based on our concept of co-creation. We encourage nested layers within our ecosystem to reflect, ideate, and expand their impact annually, creating regenerative feedback loops. We measure progress towards our aim by land segments we call ‘areas of re-creation.” explains James Larkin.
Community connectivity, engagement and inclusion is one of the impact commitments declared by Nuanu and Smart City of Tehuantepec. However, achieving this goal is challenging, particularly in a complex social environment.
“There have been attempts to connect the port of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca with Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz since the early 20th century.” explains Sergio Garnelo Cortes. “Unfortunately, the idea has never been realized, which has led to skepticism among the local population. We perfectly understand it. Additionally, high crime rates, lack of infrastructure, and unemployment have made it more crucial than ever to implement a strong program aimed at inclusion of the population in the project. We want people to adopt it as their own.” he concludes.
The Smart City of Tehuantepec project includes a strategy for social inclusion. It focuses on promoting environmental sustainability through the circular economy, empowering indigenous women, and preserving local traditions and customs.
Mexican indigenous women on a local celebration

Indigenous women in Mexico.

Source: Shutterstock.

“There are between 7 to 10 indigenous dialects spoken in Southeast Mexico. In the Smart City of Tehuantepec, people will be able to receive healthcare in all of them.” explains Jazmin López Incio. “This part of Mexico is very diverse. The area contains a blend of traditions that contradict each other, making it challenging for us to find a balance. Nevertheless, we are striving to find a golden middle, and there is a dedicated team working to tackle this challenge.

Vertical farms in the cities of future: self-sufficient, safe, and inclusive

“Food security is crucial for the sustainability of cities in the future. The availability of quality food that meets diverse dietary preferences is essential for the well-being of city residents. While achieving complete self-sufficiency may be challenging, incorporating controlled-environment agriculture technology can increase the production of high-volume crops in urban settings.” says James Larkin.
To develop food production in Nuanu, iFarm will build a high-tech multi-functional vertical farm in the city. The project is aimed at ensuring the year-round supply of the highest quality produce and creating a regenerative farming model.

The innovative vertical farm is expected to yield around 2.5 tonnes of high-quality vegetables and leafy greens per month. It will be designed in the biometric eco-architecture style and will become one of the symbols of the city's commitment to environmental regeneration, and food safety.

Implementing sustainable farming practices in the smart cities will reduce their carbon footprint, lower chemical usage, and increase productivity while minimizing environmental impact.
Additionally, regenerative farming and innovative techniques like vertical farming or underground farming provide promising solutions to the issue of limited arable land and water, especially in urban areas.
Unlike conventional agriculture, controlled-environment agriculture reduces water usage by over 95% and land usage by 99%.

In the Smart City of Tehuantepec in Mexico, hydroponic vertical farming is also planned to be the key agricultural technology. With the participation of iFarm, Opus 2G Group plans to construct 22 automated vertical farms in the smart city by 2028. The pilot farm with iFarm StackGrow technology will grow leafy greens and will be launched in 2024.
Vertical farm in the Smart City of Tehuantepec concept

Vertical farm facility in the Smart City of Tehuantepec. Concept.

Source: Opus 2G Group.

In the future, a wide range of crops is set in the food production plan: microgreens, berries, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and medical plants. “We will be also running a joint investigation to develop an indoor vertical farming system to grow coffee and cocoa beans,” adds Jazmin López Incio.

Opus 2G Group sees agriculture as another inclusion opportunity. Indigenous women will be the ones to lead high-tech farming in the Smart City of Tehuantepec.
“It is planned to promote women to be the ones to take care of the fruit cultivation.” tells us Jazmin López Incio. “They will not become typical workers, exploited by large industries that rely on a cheap labor force. Instead, they will have an important role in the city’s development, and are going to be rewarded fairly.” she concludes.
In lieu of the final remarks: iFarm is proud of collaborating with the Nuanu community and Opus 2G Group in their outstanding impactful projects in Bali and Mexico. Building the future with a billion unknowns to manage is challenging, yet rewarding. Thank you for choosing us in your journeys.
To learn more about innovative farming systems that will form part of the future food production, contact iFarm
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