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In recent years, as the world continues to face environmental issues like climate change, rapid urbanization, suburban sprawl, and resource depletion, sustainable cities have grown in popularity. Sustainable city projects are broadly gaining momentum as policymakers, city planners, and communities strive to develop cities that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.
But what are sustainable cities and communities? A sustainable city is an urban environment that is specially designed, developed, and governed in a way that meets the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs as well. A sustainable city balances environmental, economic, and social considerations to ensure the well-being of its residents as well as local natural environments and the planet as a whole.
Sustainable cities are generally characterized by features such as green infrastructure, green spaces, renewable energy, walkable neighborhoods, affordable housing, mixed-use development, and sustainable public transit, among many others.
Did you know?
Rheaply is part of the Circular Cities Coalition. The Circular Cities Coalition is a multi-stakeholder partnership with a shared vision to enable the rapid and just transition from the current system to a regenerative and equitable one. Comprised of leading international non-government organizations, multinational corporations and local start-ups, the CCC is open-source and driven by the spirit of collaboration intent on building a better world.
Why are sustainable cities important?
Sustainable cities have become increasingly important as the world continues to grapple with the adverse effects of climate change. They’re also important because sustainable cities are designed to meet the needs of the earth’s current population while reducing the negative impact on the planet to preserve it for future generations. Sustainable cities examples (like Copenhagen, Denmark, Stockholm, Sweden, Vancouver, Canada, etc.) have shown the myriad benefits of sustainable urban planning.
One of the key reasons why sustainable cities are important is that they can help drastically reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. For instance, Copenhagen initially sought to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and expects that it can achieve this goal before 2030 at the latest. Other cities from around the world have made similar pledges and implemented policies and practices to promote the use of renewable energy, green infrastructure, and more sustainable modes of transportation.
The importance of sustainable cities and communities is readily evident. They are an essential aspect of creating a sustainable future, and they may also be able to help address the numerous complex challenges facing our planet. Examples of sustainable cities show that they are not only possible, but can be beneficial for human beings, economic development, and the entire planet.
Sustainable cities throughout the world
Sustainable cities and communities may be critical for achieving a more sustainable future. These cities are carefully designed to minimize their environmental impact, promote social equity, and enhance economic prosperity. Some of the most sustainable cities in the world include:
- Copenhagen, Denmark – Widely considered to be one of the most sustainable cities in Europe, Copenhagen has a sprawling network of bicycle lanes, pedestrian zones, and efficient public transportation systems, largely reducing the population’s reliance on combustion-engine automobiles for transportation. While they are falling somewhat behind on their initial pledge to be completely carbon neutral by 2025, there’s still hope that they can achieve this goal before the next decade.
- Amsterdam, Netherlands – Not far from Denmark, Amsterdam is another city that has significantly prioritized sustainable transportation solutions. Amsterdam has an extensive bicycle infrastructure and is attempting to reduce automobile traffic by 40 percent by 2025. Amsterdam also utilizes green roofs, solar panels, and other energy-efficient designs for modern buildings.
- Stockholm, Sweden – A bit to the north, Stockholm is one of the leading cities in terms of sustainable energy use. Approximately 90 percent of the buildings in Stockholm are heated via renewable energy sources. Additionally, the city has set a goal to be completely carbon-neutral by 2040 and has implemented strict policies to promote sustainable transportation, green infrastructure, and energy efficiency.
- Vancouver, Canada – As one of the greenest cities in the world in terms of sustainability, Vancouver has implemented a diverse range of green initiatives including a zero-waste strategy, goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and continued investment in renewable energy sources and green infrastructure.
- Curitiba, Brazil – Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere, Curitiba is a model for sustainable urban planning with an innovative bus rapid transit system and extensive utilization of green spaces.
Conversely, the least sustainable cities in the world are characterized by high levels of air pollution, traffic congestion, and environmental degradation. These cities often have underdeveloped infrastructures, poor waste management, and insufficient access to basic services like clean water and proper sanitation.
Five characteristics of a sustainable city
What should be in a sustainable city? To be considered a sustainable city, several characteristics and features must be present. Here are five key features that distinguish a sustainable city:
- Energy-efficient buildings – Sustainable buildings encourage the construction of energy-efficient buildings such as green buildings and passive houses. This helps to reduce energy consumption and lower carbon emissions. Some sustainable cities may also offer subsidies to retrofit older buildings with green roofing, solar panels, and other sustainable materials/upgrades.
- Efficient transit – Sustainable cities also prioritize sustainable transportation methods like bicycle lanes, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and public transit solutions that utilize renewable energy sources (biofuel or electric buses, maglev trains, electric taxis, etc.).
- Green spaces – Curating green spaces like parks, gardens, and urban forests is another crucial feature of sustainable cities. These spaces help improve air quality, mitigate the urban heat-island effect, and preserve biodiversity.
- Sustainable waste management – Sustainable cities must also promote the reduction, reuse, and recycling of waste. This can significantly reduce the volume of waste that ends up in landfills and reduces the environmental impact of that waste.
- Social equity – Additionally, social cities prioritize social equity and strive to ensure that all residents have access to basic services like clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and adequate food sources. This helps promote a healthy and thriving community and can also reduce crime.
Sustainable cities and communities examples like those listed in the previous section have successfully implemented these characteristics and others to create a more sustainable and livable environment for residents.
How to achieve sustainable cities and communities
Achieving sustainable cities and communities requires a comprehensive approach that involves the development of strategies, identifying achievable goals, and defining ways to measure the progress toward achieving those goals. This process often begins with the recognition that sustainability is a multifaceted concept that encompasses environmental, social, and economic considerations.
In order to achieve more sustainable cities and society, communities must develop clear visions of what they want to achieve and establish objectives that reflect this vision. This can require engaging stakeholders (residents, businesses, and community organizations) to ensure that the sustainability plan accurately reflects the needs and priorities of the community as a whole.
Once a sustainability plan has been developed, the governing bodies must implement sustainable policies and practices. This may include providing greater access to public transportation, encouraging energy-efficient building codes, implementing waste reduction and recycling programs, and developing green spaces in urban areas.
Sustainable cities of the future
The future city concept is increasingly focused on sustainability. Future sustainable city ideas seek to create urban areas that are environmentally friendly, socially equitable, and economically viable. Some sustainable city ideas may include a range of innovations and practices that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of renewable energy sources, encourage sustainable public transportation, and create green spaces and urban agriculture. Additionally, the sustainable cities of the future will likely incorporate smart city technologies in order to optimize energy consumption, water use, and waste reduction.
As existing cities continue to grow and dilate, future cities 2050 will need to be designed with sustainability in mind. This means prioritizing walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use development, and adequate public transportation – all while minimizing the negative impacts of urbanization (such as air pollution, urban sprawl, and traffic congestion). The sustainable cities of the future will be ones that can successfully balance environmental stewardship with economic growth and social equity for all.