Six Challenges and Five Responses for the Design of Sustainable Cities

Urban sustainability is a concept that is gaining incredible traction. 

The populations of our cities are growing rapidly. By 2050, it is forecast that 89% of the population of the United States will live in urban areas. This population concentration can deliver some highly positive outcomes ─ innovation, more rapid economic development, and greater integration of social classes. 

However, unless our cities are designed and constructed to be sustainable, any such advantages are likely to be short-term at best.

There are many challenges in creating a sustainable city, and these challenges cut across environmental, economic, and social factors.

What are the six challenges to urban sustainability?

Urban sustainability is the practice of making cities more environmentally friendly and sustainable. It can be achieved by reducing, reusing, and recycling materials. It is also important to limit the use of resources that are harmful to the environment. 

In short, the idea behind urban sustainability is to create a cleaner, more livable, and more economical city for all.

The challenges to urban sustainability affect many aspects of our daily lives. These include food security, pollution of land and air, poor transportation options, energy consumption, and health.

The challenges we see can be summed up as follows:

  1. Designing cities to be sustainable

City planners must adopt sustainability as a key priority for urban design. Developing innovative solutions for high-density population growth that reduce the need for private cars, improve the provision of green space, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are crucial, and planning departments should take a lead role in this.

  1. Traditional building design and construction

Our urban buildings are responsible for significant CO2 emissions ─ including in the construction phase. They use too much energy, and too much water, and employ poor waste disposal processes. 

  1. High energy consumption

Our cities are energy porous. The rate at which we consume energy in urban areas is astounding, but encouraging people to consume less energy is incredibly difficult.

  1. Reliance on cars

People use cars, and it is difficult to alter such habits. The current high price of gas may accelerate the switch to electric vehicles, but this may only have a minimal impact on the environment. And it won’t reduce the congestion on city roads.

  1. Water is a resource

Water is a resource, but it is mostly used once and discarded. Much of our urban infrastructure is archaic and not set up to allow water to be reused.

  1. Waste is a wasted commodity

Finally, cities produce enormous amounts of solid waste. Municipal authorities spend millions of dollars on waste management but gain little from it. Much of this waste is organic.

What are five responses to urban sustainability challenges?

Challenges to urban sustainability are a multifaceted issue that can be addressed through several different approaches. 

Here are five responses that we believe should be prioritized when planning, designing and constructing to overcome the challenges of sustainable urban development.

  1. Support planning for sustainable urban planning by tightening building codes and regulations and supporting Energy efficiency in building design with tax and investment incentives.

  2. Improve public transportation to reduce congestion and pollution, integrating with housing and commercial development. Ensure that we design city streets and sidewalks to make them better for cyclists and pedestrians. This will encourage people to ditch their cars, reducing congestion and pollution.

  3. Increase the use of renewable energy sources, through the use of stricter building codes and encouraging schemes such as community renewable energy projects.

  4. Build more green spaces and parks in cities to reduce air pollution.

  5. Improve recycling programs, and water and waste management, including innovations such as green roofing and rainwater harvesting to capture and use rainwater as well as providing localized food sources, and converting organic waste into biofuels.

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To leverage our experience in sustainable design and construction, contact ACB Consulting.

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