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Sustainable Urban Development

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Sustainable Urban Development

Sustainability is a buzzword these days. That's because there's concern that future generations may not have access to the same resources we do now. The motivation for sustainable living is motivating many governments and businesses to change their practices. But what does that mean exactly? And how does sustainability work in a city? Let's dive into what sustainable urban development is and successful examples and projects.

Sustainable Urban Development: Characteristics

First, let’s begin with some definitions. Sustainability has many definitions but it is understood as maintaining the demands of the current population without compromising on the demands of future populations.

Sustainable living is meeting our needs now in a way that people in the future can also meet their needs. This huge goal requires attention at the environmental, societal, and economic levels.

Sustainable urban development Figure 1 Sustainable components StudySmarterFig. 1 - Components of sustainability; the essential components of sustainability are economy, society, and environment

Sustainable urban development is then a city’s use of resources and space in a way that meets the needs of its residents in the present without negatively impacting residents' needs in the future. This method of urban development aims to minimise damage to the environment while preserving as much of our resources as possible and transitioning to renewable resources where possible.

The main components of sustainable urban development are environmental, social, and economic. The characteristics of each of these components are made of a city's unique challenges and solutions. However, by focusing on these components, a city can achieve sustainable conditions.

But why is sustainable urban development important? Cities and towns consume many resources, especially if they experience rapid Urbanisation and urban growth. As a result, the ecological footprint of cities is very high. A higher ecological footprint means the use of more resources and greater emissions. This has the possibility of impacting future generations by using up valuable and finite resources that could lower their quality of life. There are also many Urban issues and challenges associated with development, including issues with access to affordable housing, urban pollution, and urban inequality. Sustainable urban development can address some of these challenges, particularly in regard to urban pollution.

Urbanisation is the process of a greater proportion of the population living in urban areas. This can occur as a result of migration and natural increase.

Urban growth is the rate of the population increasing in urban areas.

Ecological footprint is the impact a country has on the environment. This is usually through the consumption of resources such as land, water, and food from nature. A high ecological footprint is usually not sustainable.

See the explanation on Urbanisation and Urban issues and challenges to learn more in-depth information.

Sustainable Urban Development: Strategies and Planning

There are some urban planning strategies and dimensions that define a sustainable city. As mentioned previously, the focus on environmental, social, and economic dimensions is essential. But what does that mean in practice? In these next sections, we'll discuss and provide examples.

Environmental Development

There are many environmental development projects that cities can invest in. Conservation schemes provide the opportunity to use natural resources like water and energy in a more sustainable way. The expansion of green spaces within the city can improve the air quality (by reducing the effects of air pollution) and quality of life. Planning for more sustainable transportation such as public transport, walking, and/or cycling and accessible services can also improve air quality as fewer emissions enter the atmosphere.

Conservation schemes or projects are ways to use natural resources efficiently and minimising waste.

Natural resources are renewable (e.g. sun, water) and non-renewable (e.g. coal, minerals) resources created from the earth. Humans need them to survive.

Sustainable urban development Figure 2 Solar panels Natural resources StudySmarterFig. 2 - Solar panels can harness solar energy, a renewable natural resource

Water Conservation

Water conservation schemes serve to reduce water usage and loss. This is done by using only as much water as can be naturally replenished in the environment. Water conservation is needed because only 1% of the world's water is drinkable for humans. There is pressure to conserve this natural resource especially as the global population grows and more people rely on water sources. Conserving water includes reducing wastewater (e.g. fixing old pipes to prevent leakages), encouraging less water use (e.g. installing water meters), and recycling grey water (e.g. harvesting rainwater).

Energy Conservation

Energy consumption is also a growing global problem. The 3 main sources of energy in the world come from coal, oil, and natural gas. These are all non-renewable resources, meaning they will run out in the future. In addition to that, the CO₂ emissions from using non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas are harmful to the air and are accelerating the effects of climate change.

However, there are other sources of energy such as hydropower (from water), solar, and wind which are renewable resources and will not run out. These forms of energy are preferable because they pollute the environment less and can be used by the population without negatively affecting future generations.

With a growing global population, we must therefore take care to conserve energy. Energy conservation is then defined as reducing energy use (e.g. switching off the TV when not in use), using more efficient technology (e.g. low-energy appliances), and using more renewable energy (e.g. solar panels and wind turbines).

Many UK power companies are investing in renewable energy. The UK benefits from a lot of wind, especially offshore wind around the coasts. The UK has built some of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world, making it a leader in offshore wind farms. Some major farms include the Thanet wind farm and the Hornsea 1.

Sustainable urban development Figure 3 Off-shore wind farm Characteristics StudySmarterFig. 3 - Off-shore Wind Farm in Norfolk, UK

Green Spaces

Green spaces in urban areas are areas covered in grass, trees or other kinds of vegetation, e.g. parks and gardens. The benefits of creating and expanding green spaces are that they improve the local air quality, lower urban temperatures, and provide opportunities for recreation. The vegetation, especially trees, store and convert CO₂ into oxygen. Vegetation lowers urban temperatures by also absorbing heat from the sun while concrete reflects it back, increasing temperatures.

Some examples of green spaces include greenbelts, parks, or gardens where building construction is restricted. There are also new kinds such as green roofs which are allowing plants and vegetation to grow on the rooftop of buildings. This can also lower temperatures within buildings, allowing for better energy conservation.

Greenbelts are vegetated, open green areas around cities. In the UK, they are protected by law and so building on them is illegal.

Sustainable Transportation and Accessible Services

Traffic congestion pollutes the local air environment, clogs up streets, and creates a lot of noise. A solution to reducing traffic congestion is making sure to plan cities in a way that using public transportation, walking, or cycling is possible. This means creating areas in cities that are connected to a bus or metro system and where services like stores and restaurants are close and easy to reach. Some popular examples in the UK include the park and rides, driving to a station that connects you to other public transportation options and carpooling, sharing a car trip with others to save on fuel.

See the explanation on Sustainable urban transport to learn more!

Social Development

The social component of urban sustainability deals with society's access and availability of all benefits from the city. Thankfully, much of the environmental development benefits society through improving air quality, access to green spaces, and transport links.

However, in addition to having access to positive environmental changes, affordable housing, education, and health services are also important. This ensures an active and healthy society that feels supported and equal in decision-making. Government engagement with the community is also an important aspect of this. These are necessary for a city to be sustainable not just environmentally but economically and socially.

Economic Development

The economic sector of the city should be based on the good of the city which can be resilient and self-reliant. This means a city doesn't have to rely on help from other countries or major corporations. Addressing economic inequality is a component of this, by building a sustainable economic city, residents have access to better-paying jobs not just in the present but also in the future.

Production of businesses and jobs which take responsibility for their impact on the environment provides more benefits than just an income for residents. Businesses with renewable energy and research and development have proven to fit within this dimension. Investment in the green industry can generate both jobs (economic benefit) and more positive effects on the environment (environmental benefit).

The green industry is products and services made for preserving or minimising the impact on the environment. A company that produces solar panels falls within the green industry.

Sustainable Urban Development: Examples and Projects

There are many examples of sustainable urban development which lead to the creation of Sustainable cities. Cities like Freiburg, Germany and Curitiba, Brazil are special for the many sustainable projects they have implemented in different parts of society. By focusing on different projects around the city, they are able to be more sustainable.

A sustainable city is a city that has a high quality of life for most residents without compromising future generations. They are usually very green and have a lower ecological footprint.

Freiburg, Germany

The city of Freiburg has made it its goal to build and develop sustainably since the 1970s. They have succeeded to become one of the most sustainable cities in Germany. Much of their success is attributed to several programs within the city which focus on social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Some highlights of Freiburg's sustainability programs include:

EnvironmentalSocialEconomic
  • Rainwater collected from green roofs and recycled
  • High use of solar panels
  • Around 40% of the city is forested
  • Many co-operative shops run by locals
  • Local engagement from politicians in the form of workshops and town hall meetings
  • Many residents employed within the green industry
  • High investment in environmental projects

See the explanation Freiburg Case Study to learn more!

Sustainable urban development Figure 4 Freiburg Sustainable city StudySmarterFig. 4 - A street in Freiburg, Germany

Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba is a city in Southeastern Brazil and the capital of the State of Parana. In 2010, it was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award! This is because it has made huge sustainable developments without a major budget like some developed cities have. Some highlights of Curitiba's sustainability programs include:

EnvironmentalSocialEconomic
  • Expanded and connected parks
  • Major expansion of bus network
  • Government assists residents of slums to build and buy homes
  • Diversity in jobs and businesses
  • Businesses built to limit impact on green spaces

Sustainable urban development Figure 5 Curitiba Sustainable cities StudySmarterFig. 5 - Curitiba, Brazil

Sustainable Urban Development - Key takeaways

  • Sustainable living is meeting our needs now in a way that people in the future can also meet their needs
  • Sustainable urban development is a city’s use of resources and space in a way that minimises damage to the environment
  • Sustainable urban development is made of 3 main parts: environmental, social, and economic developments
  • Environmental developments include water and energy conservation, green spaces, and sustainable transport
  • Social developments allow citizens to feel active and equal in their cities
  • Economic developments include investment in businesses in the green industry

References

  1. Fig. 1, Components of sustainability https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nested_sustainability-v2.svg), by KTucker (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:KTucker), licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2, solar panels (https://pixabay.com/photos/solar-energy-solar-panel-electricity-2392184/), by atimedia, licensed by Pixabay License (https://pixabay.com/service/license/)
  3. Fig. 3, Off-shore Wind Farm in Norfolk, UK (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Norfolk_coast,_offshore_wind_farm_UK_2015.jpg), by johnkell (https://www.flickr.com/people/johnkell/), licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 4 A street in Freiburg, Germany (https://pixabay.com/photos/alley-road-city-urban-pavement-4195308/), by Paul_Henri, licensed by Pixabay License (https://pixabay.com/service/license/)
  5. Fig. 5 Curitiba, Brazil (https://pixabay.com/photos/curitiba-tourism-brazil-paran%c3%a1-2674394/), by marcoseduardo, licensed by Pixabay License (https://pixabay.com/service/license/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Sustainable Urban Development

Sustainable urban development is important to ensure that residents in urban areas experience a high quality of life now and guarantee it for future generations. 

The components of sustainable urban development include environmental, societal or social, and economic developments. All must be addressed by a city to be considered a sustainable city. 

The three parts of urban sustainability include environmental, social, and economic developments.

An example of urban sustainability is water and energy conservation which falls under the environmental dimension.

Urban areas may never be fully sustainable but they can minimise their ecological footprint by investing in sustainable urban development projects. 

Final Sustainable Urban Development Quiz

Question

What is the definition of sustainability?

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Maintaining a system that everyone can make money from

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The 3 main components of sustainable urban development are...

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environmental, social, and economic developments

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The ecological footprint of cities is relatively high

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True

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Examples of conservation schemes include...

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installing water meters

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What are some aspects of social developments?

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Affordable housing

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What are examples of economic development?

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Businesses that are responsible for their environmental impact

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A good bus system is an example of environmental development

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False

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Our main energy sources are sustainable

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True

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A sustainable city must be very rich

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True

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Rainwater cannot be recycled

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True

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The green industry is...

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products and services made for preserving or minimizing the impact on the environment

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Renewable energy is not sustainable

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True

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How much of the world's water is drinkable?

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1%

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What does an ecological footprint measure?

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The ecological footprint measures the impact we have on the environment through the amount of land needed per year to provide food, water, energy and services per person and absorb the waste generated. 

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Ecological footprints have a unit of                       .

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Global hectares

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True or false?

If we keep using more land, by 2030 we would need two earths to support us.

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True

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If our ecological footprint is bigger than 2.1 gha, it becomes                      for the earth.

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unsustainable

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The ecological footprint track the following six factors of productive surface areas on the earth, grazing land,                   , fishing grounds, carbon demand on land, forest area and                .

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cropland, built up land

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What is carbon demand on land? 

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Carbon demand on land is the land where carbon emissions are absorbed by forests.

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The ecological footprint is a                   measurement which can show the countries with unsustainable habits and the inequality of consumption of resources.

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global

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Local governments can help with making the ecological footprint smaller by promoting              housing, making public transport efficient, developing                        , community gardens, and parks and regulating             through policy.

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low-energy, green spaces, waste

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Tirana in Albania created a                         around the city to make their ecological footprint smaller

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greenbelt

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Grodno in Belarus built a                                           to make their ecological footprint smaller.

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waste separation plant

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What is the ecological footprint?


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The impact that humans have on the environment from resource use and demand


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Sustainability means ____

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preserving resources for future and current generations and reducing damage to the environment.


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What are sustainable cities?

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Cities which follow the path of sustainability; they are designed to reduce environmental damage and support people.


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True or false: smart cities and sustainable cities are the same.


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False

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What are some of the features of a sustainable city?


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  • Going green (green spaces, green infrastructure, urban agriculture)
  • Alternative transport
  • Renewable energy
  • Waste management
  • People

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What are green spaces?


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Areas that are covered in vegetation 


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True or false: cities can be vulnerable to the heat island effect.


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True

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Food miles are ___


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the distance that food has travelled from production to consumption. 


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How do plants get their light in vertical farms?


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LED lights

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Carbon neutrality is ____

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reducing carbon emissions to zero.

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What city aims to become a zero waste city?


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San Francisco

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The concept of liveability can be understood as ____ 


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how liveable somewhere is, including sustainability and how good life is for people living there.


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Which UN Sustainable Development goal will be met with sustainable cities?


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11

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True or false: cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change.


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True

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By 2025, what does Copenhagen plan to be?


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Carbon neutral

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Sustainability is _____


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finding ways to reduce environmental impact and provide for current and future generations without endangering the future.


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True or false: cities are generally environmentally friendly.


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False

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What is the population of Freiburg?


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215,966


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When does Freiburg aim to be carbon-neutral?


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2050

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How many sustainable development goals did the UN create?


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17

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What are some of the sustainable features in Freiburg?


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  • Alternative transport
  • Green spaces
  • Local food
  • Renewable resources and conservation 
  • People priority 
  • The town of Vauban

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The best ways to get around Freiburg are ____


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cycling or walking.

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How much of Freiburg do forests cover?


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40%

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Because of its renewable solar energy, what is Freiburg also known as?


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Solar city of Europe

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What does energiewende mean?


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The German word for the transition to low carbon.


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What is the rubbish in the city transformed into?


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Biogas

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What does ‘plus energy’ mean?


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When more energy is produced than is needed, so people can sell that energy back to the national grid.


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