7 Keys to Shaping Sustainable Cities

Cities are the world’s future. More than half of the world’s people live in cities, and the urbanization trend is continuing. Will the world invest in shaping livable, equitable, and sustainable cities?

“The path to a sustainable city starts with a vision,” explains Gary Gardner, co-director of the our newest book, Can a City Be Sustainable? “A well-crafted vision can rally public support and mobilize civic energy for a long-term urban makeover.”

“A well-crafted vision can rally public support and mobilize civic energy for a long-term urban makeover.”

Here are Worldwatch’s top 7 tips for cities who want to unlock sustainability:


1. Reduce, circulate, and clean up material flows.

Perhaps the biggest single step that cities can take toward a sustainable future is to create economies that greatly reduce materials use and (re)circulate materials. Good examples are car sharing and tool libraries, which reduce a person’s materials footprint.


2. Create space for nature.

“Green infrastructure”—the use of natural areas to provide economic services—can help cities avoid building costly new water management facilities, can recharge aquifers, and can provide flood protection.


3. Use compact and connected development.

Compact urban areas generally require fewer resources per person and tend to enhance connectedness of all kinds—physical, social, and economic—generating innovation, economic activity, and social and cultural capital.


4. Make place for creative placemaking.

Landmarks, plazas, courtyards, lakes, and parks give urban spaces personality and serve as gathering spots for the public. By investing in these assets and adding to them, cities can create attractive places that advance civic pride and unity and create a strong sense of community.


5. Strengthen cities as centers of well-being.

Cities must ensure that all citizens have access to health care. Cities can prevent respiratory and digestive problems linked to pollution by ensuring clean air and water.


6. Keep people at the heart of development.

The fundamental purpose of a city is to serve its people. Yet in many urban areas, development priorities are set based on the needs of builders, financial brokers, and the city’s privileged, while sidelining public interest. To be more inclusive, city administrations can weave people’s interests into the very fiber of city initiatives, involving all citizens.


7. Ensure participatory governance.

On questions large and small, citizens in sustainable cities find roles open to them in governance, as individual voters and as members of stakeholder groups. Power is shared between city hall and smaller jurisdictions within the city. And members of civic groups of all kinds are consulted regularly and included in major decision-making processes.

These tips are excerpted from Gary Gardner‘s chapter, “Toward a Vision of Sustainable Cities,” in the Worldwatch Institute’s Can a City Be Sustainable?

 About Can a City Be Sustainable?

SOW2016In our newly released State of the World book, Can a City Be Sustainable?, experts from around the globe examine the core principles of sustainable urbanism and profile cities that are putting these principles into practice. Throughout, readers discover the most pressing challenges facing communities and the most promising solutions currently being developed. The result is a snapshot of cities today and a vision for global urban sustainability tomorrow. Learn more on our project page.

Order your copy today.

Gaelle Gourmelon is the Communications Director at the Worldwatch Institute. She has a background in biology and environmental health and focuses on how we can use social institutions and the planet’s resources more effectively.

One thought on “7 Keys to Shaping Sustainable Cities”

  1. Ways of making cities sustainable is a welcome move. Making urban dwellers understand how they can contribute to sustainability is encouraging.

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