Sustainability is more than a buzzword; it is our path to a livable future. While some cities struggle to get their citizens on board, others are bright examples of soft and hard measures that add up to create environmentally friendly urban areas. Today, we will take a look at five sustainable cities that sit on top of many charts, and we will find out what sets them apart.
What are the common characteristics of sustainable cities?
A sustainable city is one that addresses the challenges of our modern world – environmental, social, and economic, via systemic changes in urban planning and city management. Here, systemic refers to the fact that there is not one single change that cities can make to become sustainable. Rather, it is an approach that can be implemented in all existing and new systems within the city. When we say ‘sustainable,’ most people imagine the city center of a megalopolis where instead of the smog and constant congestion, people walk surrounded by greenery. While this is an oversimplification, it serves the purpose of outlining the result of the systemic approach to sustainability – a healthy environment that allows people to thrive even in bigger cities.
Here are some of the aspects that sustainable cities all have in common:
Smart public transportation systems & MaaS
One of the first aspects of city life that were touched by the sustainability movement, public transportation has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. From electric vehicles to digital fare collection options, modern transit agencies are competing to present their riders with more eco-friendly options and make them make the mode shift from car to public transit. Global initiatives to introduce MaaS platforms on a larger scale have led to cities rethinking their infrastructure to welcome more bikes and e-scooters. The result is not only visible but also breathable – reduced CO2 levels are at the heart of humanity’s efforts to tackle climate change.
Embracing the outdoors
A logical continuation of the reduction of cars in the city will be to plan for more green spaces and pedestrian zones. As cars recede, people will claim back the streets – for biking, jogging, and walking. To accommodate this change, cities need to think with the future in mind and plan to reintroduce larger green areas where possible. This will not only allow citizens to enjoy more time outdoors but will help reduce CO2 levels and temperatures even further.
A sustainable approach to energy and water consumption
Smart buildings are not a thing of the future – they are already part of the plan in many forward-thinking cities. Energy consumption can be regulated by special energy efficiency ratings already implemented in the EU. They can help households not only reduce their energy consumption but also apply for different social benefits. The installation of solar panels and the use of green roofs are also major steps toward a sustainable energy future.
Another important part of the equation is water management and conservation. Implementing green infrastructure (reintroducing wetlands, green spaces, etc.) can help alleviate the damage done by coastal flooding and reduce the strain on man-made flood infrastructure. Rainwater harvesting can also be used where applicable to reduce the water needed for some activities.
Smart waste management solutions are key for pollution prevention and the transition towards a circular economy. Coordination of the waste management process can significantly improve the recycling process and make sure that even as a city grows, it will not face waste disposal problems.
A sizable portion of the food in cities must be transported to them from afar, adding up to CO2 emissions. Urban farming initiatives can reduce the amount of food that needs to be imported and also contribute to green spaces and educational programs. Dedicated communal farming spots, gardens, and even vertical farming can be an amazing push to reduce a city’s dependency on food imports. Not to mention the fact that farming has been proven to reduce stress levels!
Access to public resources
If cities want to become more livable places, improving citizens’ access to public resources should stand high on the priorities list. This includes high-quality education, health centers, technology hubs, culture centers, and more. These, as well as various job opportunities, should be in close proximity to residents no matter where in the city they choose to live. In this way, self-sufficient microcities can be created eliminating the need to commute.
Take a look at 5 of the most sustainable cities
Today, many cities claim to be sustainable – but often they have implemented a single change and not cared to continue further. This is not enough and, as we mentioned earlier, systemic changes must be introduced for a city to claim the title sustainable. What’s more, unfortunately, nowadays there is not a single city that has achieved true sustainability (but there are quite a few on the path to achieving net zero by 2050!). So, let’s take a look at the leaders in this environmental race against time.
5. Vienna, Austria
Vienna stands apart from other cities with a staggering ratio of green land per person: 120 sq. meters per resident. Parks and gardens, as well as city farms, create a more livable environment in this historical city. What’s more, Vienna consumes less energy than any other region in Austria.
A miracle city in the East, Singapore is at the forefront of smart innovations which allows it a place on our list. It might be surprising given that the skyline is dominated by skyscrapers, but Singapore has invested a lot in providing a substitute for every lot of greenery lost to construction. Its majestic parks also act as a natural flood protection system and provide residents with an amazing opportunity to relax amidst one of the world’s busiest investment hubs. Water purification also adds up to the sustainability ranking of the city.
3. Stockholm, Sweden
The people of Stockholm have long led the transformation of the city – its residents simply want to live an eco-friendlier life, and it shows. This is the only city that recycles all its household waste. As part of its approach towards sustainability, every restaurant and shop has a clear sourcing policy – so you know exactly what you are eating and buying. Goes without mentioning, walking and biking are big.
2. Zurich, Switzerland
Another financial hub that makes the top 5, Zurich provides its residents and guests with amazing public transportation. Add to that the free bikes, dedicated cycling lanes, and car-free streets, and you have a true haven for people who want to spend time outdoors.
Another very important aspect of living in Zurich is energy conservation. New buildings need to be rigorously certified to comply with energy efficiency standards. To complete the circle, more than 80% of the electricity in the city comes from renewable sources. Recycling as much as possible is part of life here, too.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is on every list of sustainable cities. And for a good reason – it has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality before 2025. It is doing so by replacing old buses with electric vehicles and by enhancing its (already enormous) biking infrastructure. Only 29% of households in Copenhagen own a car – they simply do not need to.
An interesting part of the landscape, Copenhill is another sustainability achievement. It is a highly efficient and clean facility that turns waste into energy. On its roof, residents of Copenhagen can ski and snowboard!
Last but not least, Copenhagen is a city where a significant portion of shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and even fast-food venues use organic produce.
How can sustainable cities enhance their efforts?
What unites all the cities on our list is their comprehensive approach to sustainability. These cities, along with many others, have discovered their pain points and invested a lot in devising ways to tackle each and every one of them. But how do you find them? Data is every city’s best bet to focus on the problems that matter the most. Nowadays, gathering data is a straightforward process – cities can utilize a network of smart sensors to collect and analyze data streams from various systems in real-time inside a CO2 emissions dashboard. Contact us today and begin your journey toward sustainability!