Sustainable Cities: Definition, Design & Planning

Instructor: Graig Delany

Graig teaches Architecture, Construction and Engineering Courses and has a Master of Architecture Degree

Sustainable cities are cities that are actively working toward sustainability. Major factors of sustainable cities are, but not limited to water, air pollution, energy, and waste.

Sustainable City

Imagine a city designed and planned so well that there was never any traffic or pollution. That waste was minimized and that the city generated its own power. What you are imagining is an EcoCity, or a sustainable city and the future of the world might depend on its success.


Experts, as well as the dictionary, have yet to define what a sustainable city is, however, the general consensus is that it is a city that minimizes the inputs and outputs. Meaning, they use fewer resources and create less waste. So what does sustainable mean? Is it simply the ability to sustain? In the context of sustainable cities, there is an underlying consideration of the environmental impact. These factors include, but are not limited to, water, air pollution, energy, and waste. With over half the world's population living in cities, there is a desire to make cities work better and healthier. The United Nations is trying to address this problem by creating a 17-point plan for the sustainable development of the world.

Point 11 is Sustainable Cities and Communities, and as it points out ''95% of urban expansion in the next decades will take place in developing countries.'' The experts all seem to agree that existing cities and new cities will need to be thought of in more sustainable terms. This article will look at the United Nations plan, as well as a city from scratch and some retrofit solutions.

United Nations Sustainable Development Plan

The main concern outlined by the United Nations proposal is the potentially rapid urbanization in the developing world. This would put tremendous stress on the water supply as well as the sewer system. This could create a public health disaster. The rapid growth could create more slum conditions, as there would not be enough adequate housing. People living in slums could be stranded because of the lack of transportation infrastructure. The United Nations has outlined the need and created an economic plan to help facilitate the creation of more affordable housing as well as sustainable transport systems and public green spaces. One of the advantages of urbanization is that the high density can actually reduce resource and energy consumption.

Retrofitting Solutions


Waste: San Francisco

Solid Waste can be a major problem for a city. Landfills are obviously not a sustainable solution. San Francisco, California has created a goal of zero waste, which they hope to implement by 2020. They are on their way as they currently keep about 80% of waste from the landfills. Metals and plastics are recycled as they are elsewhere, but they are also making fertilizer from food waste and safely handling toxic materials. San Francisco has the people to make this vision a reality, and time will tell if they can reach the 100% goal.


Transport: Bogota

Without public transportation, most low-income individuals are forced to find employment in their immediate surroundings. Whatever is in walking or biking distance. One system that is showing promise in Bogota, Columbia is the Bus Rapid Transport, BRT, system, also called the Transmilenio. What is innovative about this system is that the buses have a capacity of 160 passengers and have dedicated lanes. The dedicated lanes make a huge difference for the riders in transport time. The system runs efficiently by running more buses more often at rush hours, and fewer buses during off-peak hours. This makes the system very energy efficient as the buses typically run at or near capacity.


To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account