What are Self Sustainable Cities?

Sustainable cities generate the best quality of life for the people living in them. This happens in social, environmental and economical aspects without compromising the ability of living the same state of life for the future generations to come.

Thousands of people moving across the streets, vehicles packed in traffic jams, buildings rising to the sky and few green spaces scattered here and there. These scenarios are very much familiar to you if you are someone living in the city. Cities are very busy places. The thing about cities is that they change and develop while facing many challenges along the way. So, a while back in 2008 when global cities started facing an economic crisis, lot of nations started finding solutions to address this crisis. And one such concept which caught attention of the world is the concept of self-sustainable cities.

Self-sustainable cities (

What are sustainable cities?

These cities are based on the design idea of generating the best quality of life for the living populations socially, environmentally and economically without compromising the ability of living the same state of life for the future generations to come.

Why make cities sustainable?

The world is becoming urbanized. And cities have become the destinations of the populations looking for a successful way of life. Cities have become the power houses of the economic growth in the world which contributes to 60-70% of the GDP globally. But on the downside, they contribute to global carbon emissions and high resource usage. Among these there are other problems residing in cities. Such as high energy consumption increase in slum distributions, natural disasters and becoming vulnerable to climatic changes such as flooding, landslides, heat waves, and drought. In order to face these problems head on, the cities must be more resilient to any challenge.

When a city becomes self-sustainable, it provides the residents and the visitors of the city a state of reasonable standards of living while conserving the natural resources. A good governance granting an economically balanced occupational well-being to the people without any corrupted systems and agendas can also be observed. Which finally leads to law-abiding citizens which contribute to the city development of the city.

How does cities become self-sustainable?

So sustainable cities create a way to maintain itself through the surrounding natural environment and to consume the renewable energy resources. Such cities contribute to pollution in a minimal level while generating a smallest possible ecological footprint. Most of the cities achieve this through efficient land uses and resource-use patterns, recycling of materials, waste to energy conversions which will impact less on climatic changes. Sustainability is not about a dominant technological factor. It is about connections, interactions, diversity and a good quality life.

Even though cities become sustainable, they still have to face problems such as demand for the essential services such as water. And since cities generate waste when compared to other places, the ineffective wastewater management and solid waste management could interrupt the sustainable developing methods specially in developing countries.

Transportation (

Sustainable cities tend to use public transport methods which will reduce the carbon emission to the environment. When it comes to transport systems, the cycling and walking has become a trend in European cities. This not only have a higher effect on environment, but also on human health. Hubs are another method of controlling traffic and transport.

Having locally spread spaces to get the required services helps in reducing the travel time. And joined public transport will ensure seamless travel across the borders and states without further delays. When it comes to city planning, the spatial distributions of developments which makes the city livable is a point to improve the life quality. The city should not be separated but somehow merged into a single mesh which will not disturb the interaction and recreation of day to day to day lives.

Related article: All About Green Buildings

When it comes to building distribution, it is easier for the cities to be sustainable as long as it maintains the impact per unit. For example, a retail shop can be mixed up with a light industry next to a working space and a restaurant. This generates diversity and conserve time and makes the accommodations more affordable. And even the built-up spaces should be designed in a resilient manner to withstand the environmental forces as well. When it comes to energy and food, most of the green cities encourage the rooftop gardens and vertical gardens and community supported agriculture as well. The heat island effect can be reduced to improve the well-being. Somehow a small change in a large quantity generates a tremendous effect for the nature and for us, humans as well.

Green city (

The sustainable cities index

The index to measure the city sustainability is called the sustainable cities index. This was developed by ARCADIS in collaboration with the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT). This index analyses three pillars of suitability. The environmental factor; factors which determine the green label of a city, the social component; factors related to the human quality of life and the economic component; the economic stability of a city.

Now let’s analyze some cities on the top of the rankings among the sustainable cities in the world. (Source: Arcadis and the Centre for Economic and Business Research)

  1. Zurich, Switzerland
  2. Singapore
  3. Stockholm, Sweden
  4. Vienna, Austria
  5. London, UK
  6. Frankfurt, Germany
  7. Seoul, South Korea
  8. Hamburg, Germany
  9. Prague, Czech Republic
  10. Munich, Germany


This is known as the most sustainable city in Asia. Even though the population of Singapore is 5 million, the government has carried out immense work plans to provide the best quality of a city life to its’ inhabitants. The mobility within the city is very well managed. They also have focused on making the city green by 80%. They practice various approaches to generate a network of connected spaces throughout the city as well. Ease of doing business, connectivity, and transport infrastructure are the three variables which boosted the Singapore to a top position of the rankings.

Singapore (


This is the largest city in Sweden. The city obtained a higher score in quality of the environments and life due to the initiation of various ways to reduce the CO2 emissions. The city also consists of industrial areas which were converted to ecological neighborhoods. Another important feature is the Stockholm’s environmental flow with its’ excellent public transport and cycling network.

Stockholm (


Oslo has been the capital of Norway since 1814. This is the governmental center of Norway. Even though Oslo is not at the topmost position in the index, it has 242 km2 forest cover with 8 km2 allocated for parks and sport arenas. And the cities total area is 454 km2. So technically, this is a green city.  Oslo also practices numerous ways to reduce the carbon emissions by 50% since 1990. The city practices the production of electricity or heat through landfill gas. Oslo uses policies which preserve forests, hills and lakes and wildlife. The city also provides Eco-Certification to the companies, schools even kindergartens depending on their contribution to make the city sustainable.

Oslo (
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P. Ramawickrama
Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Moratuwa
Articles: 13

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