How Can a City Become Sustainable?

Updated on April 11, 2019
KsenijaZ profile image

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 | Source


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 give the economy a level that can actually reduce the pressure on natural resources and increase energy efficiency. As urban people live closer together, more compact and thus require less space, every resident of the city requires less infrastructure such as sewerage, electricity and transport network as the population of the suburbs or other decentralized settlements. 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 city in the USA
Seattle, one of the greenest city in the USA | Source

Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability

It should be noted that the 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 natural and cultural heritage of the city, improve the quality of the living environment and sustainable 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. | Source

What is 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 socio - economic objectives are pursued together with environmental and energy and thus ensure the sustainability of urban changes. Those are cities that achieve efficient use of natural resources, reduction of ecological footprints and appropriate quality of the living conditions for their populations. Sustainable urban development is resulting 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, production of emissions and limiting interregional material exchanges.

The sustainable city represents a long-term development perspective, which links different planning strategies. To ensure sustainable development, it is necessary to connect protection strategy with the efficiency of the urban system in the management of resources and ensuring equal access to them.

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 | Source

Environmental Objectives for Urban Development

Regular supply of drinking water, high air quality, proper management of waste, improving energy efficiency, increasing the share of renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly forms of urban transport are fundamental environmental objectives for urban development. Long term sustainable urban goal is to reduce urban material - energy flows, consumption of resources and space per capita, reduce ecological footprints and greater use of regional resources. It is necessary to adjust urban development to the carrying capacity of ecosystems.

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Environmental Policy Instruments

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

Singapore, most sustainable city in Asia?
Singapore, most sustainable city in Asia? | Source

Five Strategic Levels

In the 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, ...)
  2. integrated traffic management (with 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 a more efficient modes of transport, ...)
  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 the 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 are crucial 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 | Source

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 researches on 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.

What is an Eco city?

Smart Sustainable Cities

© 2016 Ksenija


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    • KsenijaZ profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Novo mesto, Slovenia

      Yes, it is necessary for all cities to take those steps. And yes, mostly it is so that local authorities are doing it, not the central government.

      Thank you very much Howard for your visit :-)

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      It is crucial to cities all over the world to take the environmental steps that you outline here. Unfortunately President Trump, in my country, does not care at all and even opposes it. Luckily our Mayors know better. Excellent and very valuable Hub, Ksenija.


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