Urban Sustainability

Urbanization, the environment, and what we can do to change

How do cities affect the environment?

According to BRI in a 2013 study:

  • "Cities are responsible for up to 70% of global carbon emissions and 75% of global energy consumption."(1)
  • "By 2050, it is estimated that 70% of the world's population will live in cities"(1)

Taking into account the exponential rate of population growth, With approximately 9.5 billion people populating the planet, this means that roughly 6.65 billion people will be living in urban areas.

This trend will be caused due to an "increase in density... as people from rural areas... enter and take advantage of the special attractions they offer in terms of jobs, culture, and education"(2)

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What is the problem?

In order to fully address the problem, we must first understand it. "Cities have surpassed all other forms of settlement and, since 2008, have become home to the majority of humanity". (2)

With cities being the place with the highest density of people, we are creating an environment that consists of massive amounts of concrete, air pollution, light pollution, sound pollution, and waste.

When designing a city, developers look at:

  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Communication
  • Industry (3)

As of right now, buildings account for 35% of pollution, while industry accounts for the other 35%

Building breakdown: "It has been estimated that buildings use about 40% of global energy, 25% of global water, 40% of other global resources and 33% of global greenhouse gases." (4)

Urban Sprawl

One of the key environmental impacts of urbanization is urban sprawl. "Urban sprawl... has become by far the most dominant trend in urbanization since World War II" (5)

Urban sprawl has allowed for people to live in urban areas without being too close to one another. This allows development to spread and give people more room to spread out. It does, however, have its drawbacks.

Urban sprawl is mostly criticized for its

  • massive land consumption
  • inaccessibility of certain resources
  • Increase in commuting, leading to an increase in fossil fuel use
  • "supersizing" of buildings, creating larger houses, stores, etc

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What can we do?

It has been estimated that we could "reduce the environmental impacts... by between 30-80% using existing technologies and management practices" This means that we dont have to spend massive amounts of money investing in research for new technologies; we can implement practices that have already been created to help create more sustainable cities. If we were to begin making small changes to our cities, and slowly adapting larger changes, we can create more sustainable urbanization by 2050


There are several different approaches that city developers have been taking to solve this issue

  • Backcasting
  • Regimes
  • green buildings


Backcasting is "The generating of a desirable future, and then looking backwards from that future to the present in order to stratagize and to plan how it could be achieved" (1)

By deciding what we want in the future, we can create goals to work towards. Starting small, and then working larger


The regimes refers to "a stable but nevertheless dynamic configuration of buildings and infrastructures, networks of actors and institutions, technologies, policies and regulations, social norms, practices and shared expectations" (1)

Regimes would be clusters of areas for which everything is within walking or biking distance. Each regime would have everything it needed to sustain a certain amount of people in an ecofriendly way.

Green Buildings

Green buildings are buildings that are created to be environmentally friendly from its conception until the end of its lifetime.
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Combining the three

From these ideas, I have synthsized my own city design. I want to create a city that is nearly waste and pollutant free.

What will need to be eliminated

  • Most all traffic
  • Building waste
  • Coal and natural gas produced energy
  • Industrial waste

Techniques I will use

  • Circular building to create regimes
  • Green Buildings
  • Wind and solar farms- integrated with the green buildings


1) Eames, Malcolm, et al. "City Futures: Exploring Urban Retrofit And Sustainable Transitions." Building Research & Information 41.5 (2013): 504-516. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

2) SCHMITT, GERHARD. "How To Create Sustainable, Pulsating Cities Of The Future." NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly 32.3 (2015): 32-36. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

3) Greenberg, Michael R. "Sustainable Cities And Military Installations." Risk Analysis: An International Journal 35.4 (2015): 756-757.Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

4) Seeliger, Leanne, and Ivan Turok. "Green-Sighted But City-Blind: Developer Attitudes To Sustainable Urban Transformation." Urban Forum 26.3 (2015): 321-341. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

5) Rérat, Patrick. "Housing, The Compact City And Sustainable Development: Some Insights From Recent Urban Trends In Switzerland." International Journal Of Housing Policy 12.2 (2012): 115-136. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

6) Blok, Anders. "Urban Green Assemblages: An ANT View On Sustainable City Building Projects." Science & Technology Studies 26.1 (2013): 5-24. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015

7) Logan, John R. "Great American City: Chicago And The Enduring Neighborhood Effect, By Robert J. Sampson." Journal Of Regional Science 53.2 (2013): 353-355. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

8) Mahzouni, Arian. "The 'Policy Mix' For Sustainable Urban Transition: The City District Of Hammarby Sjöstad In Stockholm." Environmental Policy & Governance 25.4 (2015): 288-302. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

9) McCann, Philip. "Keys To The City: How Economics, Institutions, Social Interaction, And Politics Shape Development." Journal Of Regional Science 54.3 (2014): 524-527. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

10) Malecki, Edward J. "Handbook Of Industry Studies And Economic Geography." Journal Of Regional Science54.5 (2014): 916-918. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.