Gallery: 8 Overarching Urban Systems That Make a City Sustainable

Because cities are so complex - as complex, you might say, as a living organism - sustainable cities are much more difficult to achieve than green buildings or environmentally friendly cars. For example, it’s not enough to have sustainable buildings in
Because cities are so complex - as complex, you might say, as a living organism - sustainable cities are much more difficult to achieve than green buildings or environmentally friendly cars. For example, it’s not enough to have sustainable buildings in your city if they are all really far apart and everyone has to drive long distances to get around -- that would be like eating a salad followed by fried chicken. Simply stated, one strategy on it’s own is simply not enough to make an entire city sustainable, rather what's needed is a series of strategies. According to author Timothy Beatley in his book Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities, there are eight overarching systems that need to work together to make a city sustainable. Learn more about them after the jump.

1: Sustainable land use planning and urban form

Keeping the city compact and fighting urban sprawl, as well as creating a distinct separation between urban and rural areas, are key to sustainable land use planning and urban form. Moreover, it is important that a city create walkable neighborhoods, have good public transit, and in general, rely less on the automobile.

2: Innovative housing strategies

Housing in dense, walkable neighborhoods, typically in mixed-use environments, is one example of a sustainable housing strategy. It is important to provide a variety of housing options, where you don’t have live in a Manhattan-style high-rise to achieve density. Other innovative sustainable housing types include accessory dwelling units, housing over shops, and co-housing.

3: Sustainable transportation and mobility

The most important thing to remember here is that the personal automobile is not part of sustainable transportation and mobility. Instead, sustainable transportation options place an emphasis on fast, comfortable and reliable public transportation; usually some combination of rail, tram, metro or bus. Besides transit, city planners need to think multi-modal – where pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure are important components of the overall sustainable transportation strategy.

4: Urban ecology and strategies for greening the urban environment.

Think cities are nothing but urban jungles? Think again. Cities have their own natural ecosystems, like parks, urban forests and urban landscapes. It’s important to protect and nourish these natural assets and leverage them for the health of city residents, as well as the health of the planet.

5: Recycling, upcycling and closing the loop of “stuff”.

Much like a living organism, a city has energy and resources flowing in, and waste and pollution flowing out. The key here is to try to upcycle that waste to become part of the energy and resources stream, thereby closing the loop of the urban metabolism. An example is to use household waste to fuel power plants, which in turn fuel the city, which in turn produces sewage that is used to start the cycle over again.

6: Energy conservation and renewable energy

To achieve energy efficiency on a municipal level, cities must make it a part of their general plan and zoning codes. To do that, they have to make room for things like district heat and power plants, and write energy efficiency standards into their codes for new development and redevelopment. It’s also important for city governments to take a leadership position in using and promoting renewable energy for their own buildings and operations.

7: Sustainable building practices

Since 40% of the world’s energy consumption comes from buildings, it’s important for cities to address sustainable building practices to reduce that number — and not just on new buildings. The continuous process of building, renovating, and managing structures provides many ways to reduce a city’s ecological footprint.

8: Green governance and economy

What do sustainability and governance have to do with one another? Changing the unsustainable practices of government employees, its investment and purchasing practices, and the ways in which it delivers services to the public has a huge impact on the sustainability of a city. A green city starts with green government.

As you can see, a city has to change pretty much everything about itself, from the way its employees get to work to the way it disposes of waste to become sustainable. It’s not an easy undertaking, but one that more and more cities around the world are taking on because just like living organisms, if they don’t start taking care of themselves now, they are liable to face a difficult and dubious future.


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