What is a Sustainable City? 6 Ways Cities Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

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Even entire cities can become eco-friendly with the right intentions & infrastructure. Here are 6 characteristics of a sustainable city…

Although it has become the norm in recent decades, the truth is that cities don’t have to be dense smog centers full of loud traffic and trash. A new idea known as the “sustainable city” movement is challenging this traditional view of cities with innovative ideas such as edible landscaping, cycling highways, and more.

So what is a sustainable city exactly? It is one that has a net-zero carbon footprint by addressing challenges such as pollution and waste removal. More than just an eco-center, though, a sustainable city is also with a sense of place and identity – somewhere its citizens are proud to call home!

Read on to learn more about the most popular features of sustainable cities.

Popular features of a sustainable city

Also known as eco-cities, these urban centers are designed specifically to address social, environmental, and economic impact. Through smart urban planning, city management and strategic partnerships, change is possible.

1.) Affordable public transportation

Today, 75% of the carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. is caused by motor vehicles. Sustainable cities need to cut down on the number of gas-powered vehicles on the roads in order to achieve cleaner air and less pollution.

Well-planned public transportation can transform an entire city: take New York City or Tokyo as examples.

As new transportation technology becomes available so does new inventive ways to transport the public. In recent years Maglev trains have improved rail travel by making it faster, more eco-friendly, and more efficient.

Here are some examples of public transportation:

  • Electric trolleybuses

  • Maglev trains

  • Metro systems

  • Underground railways

2.) Vehicle charging stations

Another way to reduce air pollution on the roads is to have drivers transition from gas to electric power. In order to do so on a massive scale, cities will need to build vehicle charging stations so electric vehicles have places to charge throughout the city infrastructure.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are another new technology that may help cities be carbon neutral in the future. These vehicles will also need their own refill stations but rather than needing a charge, they will need a refill of hydrogen and oxygen to run.

3.) Walkable/bikeable neighborhoods

The most eco-friendly way to travel is on foot or by bicycle, but in order for citizens to ditch transit in favor of these methods of travel, there has to be good walkable and bikeable infrastructure in place.

In Copenhagen, for example, bicycles outnumber cars more than five to one thanks to major investments by the government to transition it into a cycling city. There are cycling superhighways, bike-only bridges, and bike paths all around the urban center to make bicycling as convenient as possible for its residents.

Here are some of the ways cities can make their streets more walkable and bikeable:

  • Pedestrian bridges

  • Bike path networks

  • Connected urban grids

  • Shared micro-mobility

4.) Public green spaces

Free green spaces for residents to enjoy is another essential ingredient of a sustainable city. While parks and trails will encourage people to explore the city on foot more, sustainable cities are investing even beyond traditional green spaces.

Edible landscaping, community gardens, and other urban farms can help solve hunger issues for residents in need while encouraging residents to eat farm-fresh and local ingredients.

5.) Water conservation

Did you know that over 90% of the world’s cities are near coastal areas? Rather than polluting these water sources, cities should be finding creative and eco-friendly solutions for these waterways.

Restoring wetlands and planting trees can help protect a city from flooding, reducing the need for man-made flood infrastructure such as levees.

Rainwater harvesting can reduce water waste while irrigating public green spaces and municipal buildings.

6.) Waste management

No one likes them, but sometimes fines and regulations are the best ways to enact change. Take San Francisco, where recycling and composting mandates have helped Silicon Valley achieve a waste diversion upwards of 77%! Or take Australia’s COVID recovery plan to remake how they handle waste, which will create 10,000 jobs in the middle of an economic downturn.

Cities should prioritize going paperless with government documents and focus on energy recovery as well.

Still interested in learning more about what makes a sustainable city? Check out the graphic below from The Zebra to see how urban centers can achieve a net-zero footprint:

Sustainable City graphicImage Source: TheZebra.com


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