Characteristics of Sustainable Cities: Models and Frameworks

Characteristics of Sustainable Cities: Models and Frameworks

Sustainable cities are futuristic cities proposed to promote sustainability. Note that urbanization has been linked to numerous negative offshoots including environmental degradation.

Researchers S. Uttara, N. Bhuvandas, and V. Aggarwal examined the impacts of urbanization in India. Their study revealed that the process results in a myriad of ecological impacts to include trapped or undispersed heat, reduced quality of air, degraded quality of soil, altered patterns of precipitation and hydrology cycle, and the emergence of slums.

A literature review by I. Agyemang also noted that environmental degradation due to urbanization results in the value of the environment in relation to its capacity to meet ecological and socioeconomic requirements.

Nevertheless, in an effort to mitigate the negative consequences of urbanization, several urban planners and developers, scientists and engineers, as well as government leaders and policymakers have embraced the idea of developing sustainable cities. But what exactly are sustainable cities? What are the characteristics of these supposed futuristic cities?

Models and Frameworks For Defining the Characteristics of Sustainable Cities

There is an established body of literature dedicated to defining and describing sustainable cities. Relevant studies have provided models or frameworks for developing and implementing modern cities that adhere to the concept of sustainability. These include the 10-Point Sustainable City Development, the Resilient City Planning Framework, and the Beddington Zero Energy Development or BedZED and Beyond BedZED.

10 Key Points for Sustainable City Development

Jeffrey R. Kenworthy, a professor in the field of transport and urban planning, proposed a framework that includes 10 requirements characterizing so-called eco-cities. He called it the Ten Key Transport and Planning Dimensions for Sustainable City Development or the 10-Point Sustainable City Development. Take note of the following:

1. Compact and mixed-use settlement characterized by efficient use of land or spaces while also protecting the environment, biodiversity, and food-producing areas.

2. Integration between the natural environment and the manmade environment.

3. Lessening of freeway and road infrastructure in order to emphasize the construction of facilities that promotes walking, cycling, and rail transit, thereby minimizing the use of car and motorcycles.

4. Extensive use of technology for managing water, energy, and waste.

5. Creation of central cities and sub-cities that allow easy access and circulation through modes of transportation apart from automobiles, thereby allowing employment and residence to grow alongside each other.

6. Existence of a high-quality public realm is evident from culture, a strong sense of community, and good governance.

7. The physical structure and design considerations of the settlement are durable, visually appropriate, and personalized for human needs.

8. Promoted and enhanced local economic performance.

9. City planning is characterized by a debate-and-decide process rather than a predict-and-provide process that is usually generated by computers.

10. The concept of sustainability is embodied in all decision-making while also harboring ideals of democracy, inclusion, empowerment, and engendered hope.

Resilient City Planning Framework

Another scholar, Yosef Jabareen, an urban planning professor whose research interests include planning theory, climate change, and sustainable development, proposed a model that defined and characterized sustainable cities around the concept of sustainability and resiliency, as well as in relation to the negative impacts of climate change. He called it the Resilient City Planning Framework or RCPF.

The RCPF takes into account different present and probable factors that can serve as a threat to the feasibility and livability of a settlement. This framework considers the points of view of different stakeholders to foolproof a settlement for the future.

Note that the framework identifies steps in developing his imagined settlements. These include vulnerability analysis matrix, prevention, urban governance, and uncertainty-oriented planning. Each step has its different components. Take note of the following:

• Vulnerability Analysis Matrix: Involves determining different uncertainties and taking into consideration informality, demographics, and spatiality.

• Prevention: Takes into account mitigation strategies in relation to natural and humanmade disasters, restructuring of infrastructure and an entire city, and the promotion and utilization of alternative energy sources.

• Urban Governance: Includes promoting and maintaining socioeconomic equity, strong sociocultural integration, and sustainable economic growth.

• Uncertainty-Oriented Planning: Factors in three specific components of a plan that revolve around specific adaptation strategies and tactics, actual planning and implementation, and promotion of sustainability.

Beddington Zero Energy Development

The Beddington Zero Energy Development or BedZED is another model that defines the characteristics of sustainable cities. It was spearheaded by the London-based Peabody Trust with Bill Dunster as its lead designer and architect.

Noe that BedZED is a specific urban construction project in London involving high-density residential development that features workspaces to efficiently use energy. The goal is to create a carbon-neutral settlement that supports a sustainable lifestyle. BedZED is fundamentally based on energy consumption efficiency.

A study by policy consultant Tom Chance as part of his proposal of developing sustainable residential communities mentioned that the project resulted in a considerable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, lesser utilization of automotive vehicles, decline in water usage, and overall reduction in ecological footprint.

The following are the specific principles of Beddington Zero Energy Development:

• Zero Energy: Generation and consumption of energy from renewable energy sources for electricity and heating requirements.

• High Quality: Contemporary and practical designs on top of high-quality workmanship to attract urban professionals.

• Energy Efficient: Residential houses facing south to take advantage of solar gain, and that are triple glazed and with high thermal insulation.

• Water Efficient: Collection of rainwater for reuse and the use of appliances specifically rated for their water efficiency.

• Low-Impact Materials: Building materials based on renewable or recycled materials sourced within 50 miles of the project site.

• Waste Recycling: Presence of disposal and refuse-collection facilities for encouraging recycling and as part of waste management.

• Transport: Utilization of alternatives to car ownership such as vehicle-sharing and other sustainable transport vehicles.

• Quality of Life: Residents have higher reported quality of life characterized by comfort and a strong sense of community.


  • Agyemang, I. 2013. “Environmental Degradation and Assessment: A Survey of the Literature.” International Journal of Educational Research and Development. 2(2): 32-40
  • Chance, T, 2009. “Towards Sustainable Residential Communities: The Beddington Zero Energy Development and Beyond.” Environment and Urbanization. 21(2): 527-544. DOI: 1177/0956247809339007
  • Jabareen, Y. 2013. “Planning the Resilient City: Concepts and Strategies for Coping With Climate Change and Environmental Risk.” Cities. 31(1): 220-229. DOI: 1016/j.cities.2012.05.004
  • Kenworthy, J. R. 2006. “The Eco-City: Ten Key Transport and Planning Dimensions for Sustainable City Development.” Environment and Urbanization. 18(1): 67-85. DOI: 1177/0956247806063947
  • Uttara, S., Bhuvandas, N., and Aggarwal, V. 2012. “Impacts of Urbanization on the Environment.” International Journal of Research in Engineering and Applied Sciences. 2(2): 1673-1645
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