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How Can a City Become Sustainable?

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Graduated in geography with a major in environmental protection. In love with sustainability, ecology, geology and nature.

Curitiba, Brazil, one of the most sustainable cities in the world

Curitiba, Brazil, one of the most sustainable cities in the world

Creating Sustainable Cities

Cities represent one of the greatest environmental challenges of the 21st century, but they also have an unparalleled opportunity to supply their own numerical population in a sustainable and efficient manner. With proper planning and long-term vision, dense settlement patterns can actually reduce the pressure on natural resources and increase energy efficiency.

As urban people live closer together in more compact dwellings and thus require less space, every resident of the city requires less infrastructure such as sewerage, electricity, and transport networks than the population of the suburbs or other decentralized settlements do. Innovations in the construction of buildings, energy efficiency, waste management, and transport are just some of the possibilities that can contribute to more sustainable cities.

Seattle, one of the greenest cities in the USA

Seattle, one of the greenest cities in the USA

Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability

It should be noted that sustainable urban development includes three components: economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is necessary to ensure the quality of life, material prosperity, social security, and justice while maintaining the quality of the natural environment and resources for future urban generations.

However, it is most important to achieve urban environmental sustainability, since it is necessary to take into account the long-term development and the dependence of mankind on the environment and natural resources. It is necessary to prevent the destruction of the urban environment to ensure higher standards of living for all citizens, promote mixed use of urban space, organize environmentally friendly transport, protect the natural and cultural heritage of the city, improve the quality of the living environment, and sustainably exploit natural resources.

Copenhagen, Denmark. Most of the markets and streets of the old town are closed to motor traffic.

Copenhagen, Denmark. Most of the markets and streets of the old town are closed to motor traffic.

What Is a Sustainable City?

The central issue is how to ensure the quality of urban development, which will not deteriorate the quality of the environment and overexploit natural resources. Sustainable cities are those where the socioeconomic objectives are pursued together with environmental and energy goals and thus ensure the sustainability of urban changes. Those are cities that achieve efficient use of natural resources, reduction of ecological footprints, and an appropriate quality of life for their populations.

Sustainable urban development results from the requirements of environmental protection and the protection of natural resources. The basic goal of environmental sustainability is to maintain the stock of natural capital by reducing the need for land use, energy, and production of emissions, and limiting interregional material exchanges.

Environmental Objectives for Urban Development

The fundamental environmental objectives for urban development include the following:

  • Regular supply of drinking water
  • High air quality
  • Proper management of waste
  • Improving energy efficiency
  • Increasing the share of renewable energy sources
  • Environmentally friendly forms of urban transport

The long-term sustainable urban goal is to reduce urban material (energy flows, consumption of resources and space per capita), reduce ecological footprints, and make greater use of regional resources. It is necessary to adjust urban development to the carrying capacity of ecosystems.

Environmental Policy Instruments

There are several policy instruments that are important for sustainable urban development and can be classified into six categories: legislative, technological, economic, planning, educational, and informational. In practice, in order to achieve effective change, it is best to combine them.

For the realization of environmental policy instruments, it is necessary to take into account the different levels of urban development, because the types of problems cities face also vary according to the different levels of development and urban growth. For each level of urban growth, it is necessary to use a combination of different approaches and instruments. There is no simple solution that would be useful for all cities.

Singapore, most sustainable city in Asia?

Singapore, most sustainable city in Asia?

Five Strategic Levels

In sustainable city functioning, it is required to act on five strategic levels:

  1. Sustainable urban design. Principles of the sustainable urban design need to be transferred to the use of urban land, for which there is a whole range of possibilities, such as energy-efficient design, well thought-forming and mixed land use, etc.
  2. Integrated traffic management. Integrated transport strategies, designed to reduce the impact of urban transport and the amount of fuel consumed by transport, can be achieved to improve the environmental quality of cities for which there are many measures that focus primarily on ensuring adequate availability of urban areas, support more efficient use of vehicles, walking and cycling, reduce the level of car use and support more efficient modes of transport, etc.
  3. Effective management of urban flows. Urban design and renovation plans should be focused on reducing the consumption of water, energy, and materials, which could be achieved by introducing energy-saving technologies and rational allocation of resources; in particular, it is necessary to achieve energy efficiency and energy-saving.
  4. Indicative targets and environmental standards. It is necessary to establish key objectives and systematic measurement of pollution.
  5. Information on the urban environment. For considered decisions, it's crucial to have useful information on the quality of the urban environment and environmental pressures on the local, regional and global environment. Information is also important to raise awareness of the consequences and environmental impacts of their operations.
Curitiba bus transportation

Curitiba bus transportation

Vision of the Ideal City

Sustainable urban development is not something new, but it involves more than just eternal architecture. Such development requires a deeper understanding of human ecology. Our understanding of cities as biological organisms lags far behind the challenges. Sustainable urban development is not a new concept but it reflects the growing scientific concern and calls for research on the local and global effects of urbanization.

Urban ecology, a foundation for sustainable urban development, insists that all the elements of urban life are considered in relation to one another. In this way, such a development will not be the final state but a process by which all the elements of urbanity are in balance to maintain human health and happiness. It is true that this is not a new concept, but it is a new vision of the ideal city.

Vancouver, Canada, has a goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020

Vancouver, Canada, has a goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020


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