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What are sustainable cities?

Green, environmentally friendly urban ecosystems are the cities of tomorrow that are being built today. You can learn more about them in this article.

04 Apr 2022

Groups of people have settled together in shared spaces since the beginning of humanity. These settlements have undergone huge transformations throughout our history and right up until the present day, where we are seeing dramatic changes.

Definition and origin of the concept of the sustainable city

To understand what is meant by the term ‘sustainable city’, we need to first break it down into its two individual components. The first word, ‘sustainable’, is defined by the Collins English Dictionary as ‘capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage’. The second of the two elements is the word ‘city’, which is a place in which we might live or work, although we may never have stopped to think about its definition. Wikipedia defines it as ‘a permanent and densely settled place with administratively defined boundaries whose members work primarily on non-agricultural tasks’.

If we combine these two definitions, we can see that sustainable cities are those that are able to guarantee their continuity and development without depleting their available natural resources. They are cities that have been able to take action to reduce their pollutant emissions and protect their natural assets.

This concept first appeared in official documents in the Charter of European Sustainable Cities and Towns Towards Sustainability, approved in the Danish city of Aalborg in 1994. Here, 80 European local authorities and 253 representatives of international organisations, national governments, scientific institutions, advisors and individuals gathered together to participate in local initiatives under the UN’s Agenda 21, developing long-term programmes toward sustainable development and initiating the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign. This map shows some examples of the European Green Capitals that are already in existence in Europe today.

Sustainable Cities are part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, whose mission is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Given the historical and industrial development of our cities, their infrastructures, services and modes of transport have meant that these urban areas are responsible for 70% of global carbon emissions and over 60% of resource usage.

But current trends are driving transformation, and there are many elements that have already begun to change within urban areas, setting them on the right path to becoming environmentally friendly cities.

The importance of climate-neutral cities

With the launch of the European Union’s mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, this goal is becoming more tangible. The arrival of Next Generation funds from the European Commission will enable the modernisation and creation of environments, as well as sustainable transport infrastructures and services in cities, fostering a positive impact on the economy and the natural environment.

As will be seen at Global Mobility Call, the goal is to reduce the carbon footprint caused by day-to-day activity in these population centres, which is why these types of plans are being put into action.

Transport in sustainable cities

Previous articles have talked about the activities that have more negative impacts on cities, and in terms of sustainability, this includes mobility. This is why it is so important to implement plans that promote clean mobility, with transport systems running on renewable energy, making cities more efficient.

Urban action plans

Every city is planned in a different way, but they all have various elements in common that can contribute to a more sustainable environment. This can range from the creation of a new green space to restrictions on polluting vehicles. This is an aspect which is already being promoted among public administrations and which helps build sustainable communities.

Social engagement           

Another of the ways in which we can make towns and cities sustainable is down to the individual responsibilities and actions of each citizen.

The way we behave on a day-to-day basis is an important part of working toward this goal for our communities. The way we move around, our daily actions, our use of heating or air conditioning, and the ways in which we reduce our use of plastics, recycle waste and reuse objects are all important and, taken together, all contribute to making our towns and cities sustainable.