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19.4.1: Sustainable Cities

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    Sustainability, from science to philosophy to lifestyle, finds expression in the way we shape our cities. Cities are not just a collection of structures, but rather groups of people living different lifestyles together. When we ask if a lifestyle is sustainable, we’re asking if it can endure. Some archaeologists posit that environmental imbalance doomed many failed ancient civilizations. What could the sustainable city look like, how would it function, and how can we avoid an imbalance that will lead to the collapse of our material civilization? While attempting to envision the “sustainable city” we must discern what factors will influence its shape and form in the future.


    So what is the major hindrance for designing/updating for a “sustainable city”?

    Sprawl: The outward expansion of human populations (typically in low-density residential and commercial development) into the outer edges of cities/towns.

    As sprawl expands, it eats at natural and agricultural lands and isolates people. People have to travel further and further to go to work, the grocery store, a hospital, etcetera. What this means is that cities/towns have to find solutions to moving water, waste, power, services, road development/upkeep, etcetera to these communities. As such, there are chronic issues with sprawl on both sides that make opportunity and progress difficult due to economic constraints.

    It’s important to note that sprawl can happen at different scales:

    • Low-density sprawl: Small 1-2 story buildings in high densities. Low-density sprawl can be further distinguished by income as neighborhoods tend to be segregated by this. (Ex: North America)
    • High-density sprawl: High rise buildings in high densities (Ex: China)
    High density sprawl in Shanghai ChinaLow density sprawl in North America
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): Left - High density sprawl in Shanghai China by John Patrick Robichaud in Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY), Right - Low density sprawl in North America by Pixnio (Public Domain).


    So what can be done to design/update and move towards “sustainable cities”?

    • Mixed use development: Lends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses, where those functions are physically and functionally integrated, and that provides pedestrian connections. Making cities walkable!
    • Geographic equity: Circulation system defined by ratios of how people move. This means more bikes, walking, public transportation (in many forms) and not cars. Equitability of the streets!
    • Preserve: Preserve land, culture, and biodiversity as much as possible.
    • Mix: Mix incomes, cultures, green spaces, public transport options, etcetera as much as possible. Allow people to connect and become neighbors not strangers.
    • Focus: Match density of a community to meet transit/service needs.


    Video \(\PageIndex{a}\): Perspectives: Peter Calthrope describes 7 principles for building better cities.



    Rachel Schleiger modified from Environment and Society in a Changing World by PennState OER Initiative (CC-BY-NC-SA)

    This page titled 19.4.1: Sustainable Cities is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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