Creating More Sustainable Cities for a Greener Future
Updated: Aug 14
Discover the cities leading the way in sustainable living! From green transportation to urban agriculture, learn how these innovative solutions are shaping the future of our planet.
Cities are the beating heart of our modern lives; providing homes, workplaces, educational systems, and community to millions of people around the world. They are where we come together, connect, and build the future. These cities contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions, yet they also offer the best hope for reducing the ecological footprint on a global scale.
With up to 68% of people expected to live in cities by 2050, these cities will require up to 80% of global resources and will generate an ever-increasing amount of carbon emissions. In order to combat these issues, we need to make large-scale societal changes. In this post, we'll take a look at some of the crucial services that enable cities to function, and which ones are developing better systems in response to climate change.
According to the International Energy Agency, transportation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. As populations continue to expand, cities must also adjust and modify their transport systems. Providing access to cost-effective and eco-friendly public transport options, and creating safer spaces for cyclists may be challenging, but is also essential for the future of green transport.
Scandinavia and countries within northern Europe have long been heralded as hubs for alternative methods of living and transportation. Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark, and Amsterdam, Netherlands have both extremely efficient bus, tram, and train services, but are also renowned for the citizens' love of cycling. In both Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it's estimated that over 60% of the cities' residents use their bicycles on a daily basis, whether that be for work, running errands, or leisure.
This not only improves residents' overall well-being, but also decreases the number of cars on the road, lessens the wear-and-tear (like potholes) roads face and the costs of fixing them, and significantly reduces the cities' carbon emissions.
Similarly, Gothenburg, Sweden is another great example of a city that is dedicated to improving its public transport and creating a wave of green transport options for its citizens. Boasting travel by buses, trains, trams, and boats, 65% of the city's transport options use energy from renewable sources, and with 200 electric buses serving 34 different routes across the city, as well as electric ferries, Gothenburg has often been heralded as one of the world's most sustainable cities! The city has also recently introduced electric garbage trucks, helping to not only cut down on emissions, but also lower noise pollution. This allows for less restrictive collection times and hopefully creating a cleaner city for all.
The advantages of having reserved green spaces for both the environment and the occupants of cities is undeniable. Greenery increases biodiversity by providing a habitat for wildlife, purifies the air by absorbing pollutants and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, and ultimately offers city dwellers a tranquil atmosphere to unwind, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.
Studies have shown that people who live near green spaces have lower rates of stress, depression, and have better overall health. According to the World Health Organization, access to green spaces can have a hugely positive impact on mental health and well-being!
Singapore is one such place that has incorporated green spaces into its overall urban environment. To keep up with the demands of its ever-increasing population, the city-state has implemented a Green Plan 2030, and significant investments have been made into parks and gardens, forming a web of green spaces across the city. These areas not only offer a place for the citizens to experience nature, but they also help reduce the urban heat island effect that many bustling cities face.
Cities that invest in urban agriculture can promote food security, foster community engagement and build resilience to climate change, without heavy reliance on distant farms. Utilising opportunities for urban agriculture, like rooftop gardens and community gardens, is a fantastic way to grow fresh and healthy food while decreasing the atmosphere's carbon emissions caused by transportation, offering citizens a chance to gain valuable knowledge about gardening and the importance of plant and animal life, even in cities.
A city that has made significant strides in urban agriculture is Detroit, Michigan. The city has a long history of industrialisation and urban decay, but in recent years, it has seen a resurgence in urban agriculture as a means of revitalising the community and providing fresh, healthy food to residents. Detroit has implemented a number of initiatives to support urban agriculture, such as providing land and resources to community gardens and urban farms, as well as educating residents on sustainable food production techniques. As a result, Detroit now boasts over 1,500 community gardens and urban farms, with an estimated annual production of over 2 million pounds of fresh produce.
Energy sourcing and consumption is a vital factor in determining a city's ecological footprint. Cities consume large amounts of energy, mostly from non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels. This not only contributes to climate change, but also creates air pollution, which can have severe health consequences for city dwellers. To combat this, many cities have begun opting for renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power.
One city that is leading the way in its use of renewable energy is Reykjavik, Iceland. The city is on track to become the world's first carbon neutral capital city, thanks to its abundant geothermal and hydroelectric power. Reykjavik's district heating system, which is powered by geothermal energy, provides heat to over 90% of the city's buildings. Additionally, the city generates 100% of its electricity from renewable sources, and aims to phase out the use of fossil fuels for transportation by 2040.
Similarly, Frankfurt, Germany has set a goal to be completely independent from fossil fuels by 2050. The city has invested in renewable energy sources including solar and wind power, and has implemented energy-efficient technologies in buildings and transportation.
Frankfurt is also working to reduce its energy consumption by promoting energy-efficient building techniques and encouraging the use of electric vehicles through incentives programs.
Cities have a vital role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy, as they are responsible for a significant proportion of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in renewable energy sources and implementing energy-efficient technologies, cities can significantly reduce their ecological footprint and contribute to the fight against climate change.
Waste management is an essential aspect of creating sustainable cities. As populations continue to grow, cities will generate more waste, putting pressure on landfills and the environment. Many cities, however, are implementing innovative ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste, with even some setting their sights on a completely circular economy.
San Francisco, California, for example, has set an ambitious goal of Zero Waste by 2020, and has already achieved an impressive 80% diversion rate from landfills through its recycling and composting programs. The city has implemented a mandatory recycling and composting program for all residents and businesses, making it easier for them to properly dispose of waste. Additionally, San Francisco has also implemented a "Pay-As-You-Throw" program, which charges residents based on the amount of trash they generate, encouraging them to reduce their waste.
In 2020, the city of Amsterdam announced that it would be committing to having an entirely circular economy by 2030. The city currently has a recycling rate of over 60% and aims to reach a recycling rate of 70% by 2023. Amsterdam also has implemented a "closed loop" waste management system, where waste is collected, sorted, and processed to be used as a raw materials for new products.
Around the globe, cities like Singapore, Oslo and Copenhagen have also implemented innovative waste management strategies. Singapore has adopted a "Waste-to-Energy" approach, where waste is converted into energy through the use of incineration. This not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfills but also generates energy for the city.
Oslo and Copenhagen are also known for their effective waste sorting and recycling systems, with both cities having a high recycling rate and a strong focus on reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. With the global population rising and more people moving to cities, it’s really important for cities everywhere to adopt sustainable waste management practices!
Looking ahead, cities have a critical part to play in making our lives more sustainable and planet more liveable — cities like Gothenburg, Portland, Singapore, Reykjavik, and Amsterdam have proven that with the right policies, investments, and involvement from the people, it is possible to create cities that are not just liveable, but also work to minimise their effect on the planet. We hope other cities are inspired by these green pioneers and will begin work towards a brighter, more equitable future!