In recent years, the concept of sustainable cities has been gaining traction. Put simply, a sustainable city is one that is designed to minimize its environmental footprint, while still providing all of the amenities that make it an attractive place to live. But how does it get there?
Sustainable cities usually are not designed from scratch with sustainability principles in mind. Apart from exceptions like Masdar City, most cities inherit a long history of development. Making a city sustainable in most cases will require serious redevelopment.
What makes a city sustainable?
Energy efficiency, conservation of natural resources, and minimizing waste production are some very basic focus areas for cities that aim at a green transformation. This can be accomplished through the use of renewable energy sources such as solar power or wind energy, or through more efficient use of existing resources such as water and electricity. Additionally, sustainable cities often feature green spaces for people to enjoy the outdoors and promote healthy lifestyles.
Being sustainable also means being prepared for the effects of climate change and extreme weather.
How can we make our cities more sustainable?
Current infrastructure is not exactly conducive to sustainability; however, there are steps we can take to make our cities greener. The first step is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by replacing them with renewable sources such as solar or wind energy. While cities are energy-intensive by nature, they also offer great opportunities to increase their energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
Improving public transportation systems is one way to achieve that, so that fewer cars are needed and more people can get around without relying on private vehicles. Another way of getting there is by improving the insulation of buildings and homes.
Also, we should strive to reduce waste production in our cities by encouraging citizens to recycle and compost their waste instead of sending it off to landfills. One example of encouraging people to waste less is promoting packaging-free shops.
After these basics are achieved, it gets more challenging. As we saw, existing cities were built in times that held quite different views from today, on how to plan a city. Existing infrastructure, like dense construction, can be quite a challenge when trying to find space for greening, city farming, or water management.
How are these challenges met? Let’s look at some examples of well-known cities around the globe that became sustainable.
Sustainable city Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark is a leader in sustainable city design and innovation. This Scandinavian capital has made great strides toward reducing its environmental footprint. From investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power to encouraging citizens to recycle and compost their waste, Copenhagen is setting the standard for what a sustainable city can look like.
And there are more initiatives they have undertaken on their journey toward becoming one of the world’s most sustainable cities.
For example, in 2009 the city began constructing an underground waste-to-energy plant that converts trash into electricity, reducing the need for landfill space.
The city has implemented various sustainable building codes and initiatives, such as green roofs and energy-efficient buildings. Also, Copenhagen invested heavily in cycling infrastructure, which has resulted in over 36% of Copenhageners commute by bike.
The city’s extensive network of bike lanes and paths makes it easy for cyclists to get around town quickly and safely. Additionally, the city has implemented policies that encourage cycling such as providing free bikes to students or offering incentives to businesses that promote biking among their employees. With these initiatives in place, Copenhagen has become a model example of how cities can use cycling as an effective way to reduce emissions.
Sustainable city Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands is another city that has embraced sustainability initiatives in order to reduce its environmental footprint. Like many others, the Dutch capital has taken a comprehensive approach to its sustainability efforts, from investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power to encouraging citizens to recycle and compost their waste.
Major efforts are made to green the city’s urban and harbor traffic. But it also pays attention to smaller details: to support biodiversity in the city Amsterdam has embraced beekeeping initiatives, from providing incentives for locals to keep their own hives to installing beehives in parks and public spaces throughout the city. This initiative has been incredibly successful; there are now over 100 beekeepers registered with the local government and nearly 1,000 beehives located throughout Amsterdam!
Beekeeping is just one of many sustainability initiatives that Amsterdam has implemented on its journey toward becoming a greener city.
Sustainable city Stockholm, Sweden
The Swedish capital has implemented various initiatives to reduce its environmental footprint and promote sustainability, such as investing in renewable energy sources and encouraging citizens to recycle and compost their waste.
Additionally, Stockholm has invested heavily in green spaces throughout the city for people to enjoy the outdoors and promote healthy lifestyles.
These areas are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also provide citizens with an oasis of nature in an otherwise urban environment. As a fact, Stockholm boasts over 400 public parks and gardens that cover nearly 5% of the city’s total land area, providing citizens with plenty of space to enjoy the outdoors.
Stockholm parks are among the largest parks in cities around the world, and they are a great example of how the city is working towards becoming one of the most sustainable cities.
Djurgården, Hagaparken and Karlaplan
The Djurgården, Hagaparken, and Karlaplan are three of the largest parks in Stockholm and each has its own unique characteristics that make them great destinations for visitors and locals alike.
The Djurgården is the largest park in Stockholm, and it is home to many different attractions. It is a great place for outdoor activities such as walking and biking, as well as cultural experiences like visiting the open-air museum Skansen or the sightseeing ferry Glasbåtarna. The park also houses a large number of historical buildings, including the royal palace of Drottningholm.
The Hagaparken is a stunning park located in the northern part of Stockholm. It features a variety of gardens, meadows, and woods as well as several museums and cultural attractions. Visitors can also enjoy activities like boating, fishing, and horseback riding.
Karlaplan is a small yet beautiful park located in the heart of Stockholm. It contains several gardens, sculptures and fountains that make it a great place for locals and visitors alike.
Like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, the city has implemented various policies to encourage cycling too, such as providing free bikes to students or offering incentives to businesses that promote biking among their employees.
Overall, it is clear that Stockholm is well on its way to becoming a model example of sustainability.
Organizing for sustainability
Of course, cities can achieve a lot by themselves. But organizing to exchange experiences and ideas helps a lot to accelerate the process. Organizations that support sustainable cities are therefore increasingly important to assist and enable their efforts.
These organizations work to promote sustainability initiatives such as investing in renewable energy sources, encouraging citizens to recycle and compost their waste, and creating green spaces throughout the city. Additionally, these organizations often advocate for policies that incentivize sustainable behavior among citizens. And they act as a hub for the exchange of experiences and ideas.
Through their efforts, organizations like C40 Cities, World Resources Institute (WRI), Global Cities Summit, ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, or 100 Resilient Cities have been able to make significant strides toward making cities more sustainable and environmentally friendly places for people to live.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, Chair of C40 Cities, illustrated this in his remark: “From São Paulo to Seoul, Accra to Dhaka, Buenos Aires to Bogotá, and Milan to Montréal, C40 cities are stepping up and showing that ambitious climate action is possible. Mumbai, for example, is building on the pioneering work of Oslo by introducing climate budgeting. Tokyo is collaborating with Kuala Lumpur to develop low-carbon building standards. Lagos is decarbonizing its energy supply by installing solar panels on schools and health centers. And in London, we’ve announced that we will expand our world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone – to cover all of Greater London – ensuring that almost five million more Londoners will breathe cleaner air.”
We all want our cities to be places where people can live comfortably while also minimizing their impact on the environment. That’s why building sustainable cities is so important; they provide us with an opportunity to create communities that both respect nature’s limits and give us access to modern amenities like clean air and water. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, improving public transportation systems, and reducing waste production in our cities, we can start making progress toward creating healthier, more sustainable urban environments.
The next level, however, will be to make cities resilient to the effects of climate change and extreme weather.
Feature image: Sean Da Ros, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons