How does designing Sustainable cities contribute to Global Sustainability?

In Canada, approximately 80%of the population lives in urban areas. Of those that do live in urban areas, many live in large cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. This means that the majority of resource and energy consumption, as well as the accumulation of wastes and pollution, occurs at these sites. Worldwide, 50% of people live in urban areas, with this percentage increasing. As the world’s population becomes more urbanized we must look to the cities as the place to begin sustainable development. Living in a sustainable city can help us deal with the issue of overconsumption. In America today, ‘carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians, or 250 Ethiopians’ (
Non-sustainability is rooted in the excessive consumption that is inherent in urban areas. Long commutes to work, building huge houses, using up water, polluting other waters with sewage, large landfills, among other things, are examples of ways that cities contribute to non-sustainable living.

What is a Sustainable city?

There are many definitions as to what a sustainable city is. The best way to define a sustainable city is to use common features. This method not only helps us define sustainable cities but also helps guide the development of future cities by providing easy checklists to follow. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has researched sustainable cities and has compiled a list of 12 key features of sustainable communities:
1. Ecological protection
2. Higher density and transit-supportive urban design
3. Urban infill
4. Village centres
5. Healthy local economy
6. Sustainable transportation
7. Affordable housing
8. Livable community
9. Low-impact sewage and stormwater treatment
10. Water conservation
11. Energy efficiency
12. The 3 Res:


Sustainable community is based on the three E’s:
  • Economy - Economic activity should be maintain without decreasing the ability of the surrounding environment to maintain itself and living creatures in it.
  • Ecology - Humans are part of nature, and nature has a limit. We need to cherish the link we have with the environment and protect and conserve the ecosystem.
  • Equity – The decisions made for the well being of people, environment and economy require participation of all the parties. When developing, we need to care for all three elements equally.
    - Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED): Hart Environmental Data

"A sustainable community uses its resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations. It seeks improved public health and a better quality of life for all its residents by limiting waste, preventing pollution, maximizing conservation and promoting efficiency, and developing local resources to revitalize the local economy."
- Concern, Inc. (1993)
"Sustainable communities are defined as towns and cities that have taken steps to remain healthy over the long term. Sustainable communities have a strong sense of place. They have a vision that is embraced and actively promoted by all of the key sectors of society, including businesses, disadvantaged groups, environmentalists, civic associations, government agencies, and religious organizations. They are places that build on their assets and dare to be innovative. These communities value healthy ecosystems, use resources efficiently, and actively seek to retain and enhance a locally based economy. There is a pervasive volunteer spirit that is rewarded by concrete results. Partnerships between and among government, the business sector, and nonprofit organizations are common. Public debate in these communities is engaging, inclusive, and constructive. Unlike traditional community development approaches, sustainability strategies emphasize: the whole community (instead of just disadvantaged neighborhoods); ecosystem protection; meaningful and broad-based citizen participation; and economic self-reliance."
- Institute for Sustainable Communities

Institute for sustainable communities:

"A community that believes today's growth must not be achieved at tomorrow's expense."

- Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida, initial report, October 1995

More about sustainable cities:


The Canadian Green Building Council

The CaGBC is an organization that stems fom its American counterpart the USGBC. The regulations are largely from the USGBC except that they have been taylored to canadas climate and other factors unique to Canada plays an integral part in certifying homes, developments, renovations, commercial spaces and the environmental preformance of existing buildings. Another role of the CaGBC is adimistrations of professional credentials that recognise an individuals knowledge aplications and contribution to green industrys or technologies.

The CaGBC also operates a program call GREEN UP. This program aims to give owners and operaters measure understand and compare their buildings environmental preformance. This can help them to increase efficiency and improve preformance through this building preformance program.
Through the GREEN UP Program, building owners and managers are able to take a structured, standardized approach to:
  • recording and monitoring energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • assessing the energy and environmental performance of their buildings;
  • setting energy and water performance targets and design standards, guided by top performers;
  • highlighting retrofit opportunities and system improvements; and
  • learning and sharing opportunities and challenges associated with managing energy and water use with sector colleagues.

Actionable Items

What can Cities do?

Some of the key features listed above can also be actionable items:
- Renewable energy
  • Encourage residential owners and developers to invest in technologys that would allow them to supply energy to the public grid

- Urban infill choosing to redevelop older spaces in the inner city rather than expanding the city leads to better communities
  • Human scale - Keep the height of buildings along pedestrian streets low to prevent the wind tunnel effect that high rise building have.
  • Older neighborhoods may become rundown and are not anywhere near as energy efficient as new buildings
  • Incorporate green roofs into the tops of existand and new building to reduce ambient temperature, reduce pollution, supplement food production and provide a calming recreational are for employees and residents
- Sustainable transportation
  • designing communities around biking and walking rather than driving
  • Make bicycles available to the general public
  • Make use of public transport that utillizes clean energy such as solar, wind, tidal, and hydroelectric
  • Discourage driving by slowing reduccing parking from the downtown core and banning cars from key streets making them solely pedestrian thoroughfares

- Transit Orientated Redevelopments
  • Redevelop neigborhoods around major transit stations
  • Zone the areas for mixed use to encourage a range of residential and light commercial
  • Design the areas to be wakable using a grid that encourages pedestrian usage
  • Keep the area under 600 meters (or a 10 minute walk) in diameter to furthur encourage walking
  • A trolley system would further encourage people to leave their cars at home

Research from Sustainable Cities International, a network of cities focused on sustainable city development, has found five successful approaches that cities can take towards long term goals for sustainability:
1) Community Action Approach - Achieving sustainability through improving local living standards including disadvantaged groups through community programs.
2) Public Participation Approach - Actively seeking the opinions of the citizens to see what people look for in their city.
3) Operations and Infrastructure Approach - Changing the way that the municipal government works to make their own operations more sustainable.
4) Multi-Stakeholder Approach - Round table discussions with sustainability leaders in many sectors.
5) Concurrent Comprehensive Approach - This is the approach that the City of Calgary is using. It incorporates more than one or all of the above approaches to deal with all issues at one time.

What can I do?

As an individual you can contribute to global sustainability and the sustainability of your community by making sustainable living choices at home:
- Air drying laundry –conserves energy and water
- Keep a vegetable garden – reduces your carbon footprint
- Keep the heat down at night – reduces energy use
- Ride your bike to the store
- Take shorter showers
- Recycle and Compost
- Write or call your municipal representative to recommend a more sustainable city plan