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Characteristics of a sustainable city

GCSE, AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Sustainable cities, sometimes known as ecological or ‘eco’ cities, are settlements designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible. We summarise the various techniques through which the aims of an eco-city can be achieved.

Sustainable or eco cities can be pre-existing cities that feature management directed towards:

  • reducing the inputs of energy, water and food and
  • reducing the outputs of heat, water and air pollution

They can also cities designed from scratch with these concerns in mind.

What techniques are used when designing a sustainable "eco" city?

Renewable energy

Popular techniques, such as solar, wind, bio-gas and bio-mass power are all achievable in existing cities willing to invest in the technologies.

Barcelona requires solar panels to be fitted to every large building in order to try and heat 60% of the city’s water through renewable energy.

Urban agriculture

Producing food within or near a city reduces the distance the food has to travel before it reaches the consumer.

New York City is now home to indoor fish farms and rooftop gardens, and vegetables are grown in every available flowerbed and plot of land in the town of Todmorden, West Yorkshire.

No air-con!

Air conditioning uses lots of energy, but it's used because urban areas are artificially warmer.

Instead, taking steps to reduce the temperature of a settlement by planting trees and lightening the colours of buildings to increase albedo, can counter the "urban heat island" effect.

Public transport

Improving the standard and availability of public transport reduces car emissions, but requires a fully integrated approach to town planning to reduce the impact on businesses to keep the scheme viable.

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