Archive for the ‘Sustainable Cities’ Category

The term “Sustainable Cities” refers to cities around the world who are actively making changes to become more sustainable. By recognising the interest, motivations, models of these cities we hope to encourage others to also make such changes. If you would like to tell the world about what your city is doing to achieve urban sustainability and would like to add your city to this Sustainable Cities list please do so by making a post on the site. To do this go to “How to use this site” and follow the prompts. You can see the complete list of Sustainable Cities here.

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Never pay an Electricity Bill again? Sounds pretty good to me.

Posted in Models, Movements, Sustainable Cities, Visions by emma.gerard on August 21st, 2013

Source: Climate progress


photo from: Habitat for Humanity of washington DC

From the article Why Habitat For Humanity’s Newest Homeowner Might Never Pay An Electricity Bill by JOANNA M. FOSTER

Lakiya’s new home is the first super energy-efficient passive house in D.C. It also just happens to be a Habitat for Humanity home.

The house doesn’t look like a futuristic spaceship, but it is different from the other small pre-fab houses along the street. It is a two home duplex with a big wooden porch in front and, of course, solar panels on the roof.

Lakiya’s house started out two years ago as an entry in the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon. Dubbed “Empowerhouse” for the competition, it was an ambitious concept brought to life by engineering and architecture students from Stevens Institute of TechnologyParsons The New School for Design and Milano School for International Affairs, management and Urban Policy, many of whom had never even wielded a hammer before attempting this elaborate construction project. The team’s dream was to build a solar-powered house that could not only compete with the most cutting-edge technologies out there, but was actually affordable and something ordinary people would want to live in.

According to Josh Layrea, one of the Stevens engineers, the winning entry from a German team two years before cost over two million dollars. “It was an impressive piece of engineering,” Laryea concedes. “But made for exhibit, not habitation. The entire outside of the house was covered in solar panels.” Laryea and his teammates had a different goal. In a way, they were in a competition of their own, in which they were competing against themselves to see if they could create something that Habitat for Humanity could use not only as a home for a low-income family in the Deanwood area of D.C. but also as an affordable housing prototype for Habitat going forward. The Stevens-Parson-Milano house won the top prize for cost-effectiveness at the Solar Decathlon.

Lakiya’s house was built based on passive house design principles. The basic concept of passive house is to lower energy consumption by being super-insulated and practically airtight. Empowerhouse has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows and, as a result, uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than an ordinary house. Such low energy consumption enabled Empowerhouse to have one of the smallest solar panel arrays in the competition, which helps keep construction and maintenance costs down.

As anyone who worked on Empowerhouse hoped, Lakiya’s home is not the end of the dream. Habitat is gearing up to build six more passive houses in Ivy City, a short drive from Deanwood. They’ll look a bit different from Empowerhouse, more townhouses than duplex, but they’ll cost about the same and hopefully pass on the same savings.

“As much as we can afford, we would like to have the highest standard of energy efficiency available for our homeowners,” said Susanne Slater, President and CEO of D.C. Habitat for Humanity. “Our whole mission is to provide affordable housing to low income families, and if homeowners pay less in energy costs, that helps us reach that goal.”

“I really believe that with the mounting cost of electricity, passive houses with solar panels are going to take off,” said Slater. “And our homeowners are going to be out in front of the movement.”

>>> You can read the original article on Climate Progress

Sustainable Urban Transformation: A global overview of real-world initatives

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Kes McCormick on June 12th, 2013


The Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production on Advancing Sustainable Urban Transformation provides a global overview of activities and ambitions on urban sustainability.  It is based on contributions of over 50 authors who have produced 20 articles based on 35 cases and 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries around the world.

Despite increased awareness of the urgency to respond to climate change and to promote sustainable development, there are few powerful initiatives that are decisively shifting urban development in a sustainable, resilient and low-carbon direction.

This Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production explores sustainable urban transformation focusing on structural transformation processes – multi-dimensional and radical change – that can effectively direct urban development towards ambitious sustainability goals.

The 20 articles are based on 35 cases and over 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries. While cities in Europe dominate, there are also examples from North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The combined articles in this Special Volume contribute to knowledge and understanding on sustainable urban transformation across a range of areas, including governance and planning, innovation and competitiveness, lifestyle and consumption, resource management and climate mitigation and adaptation, transport and accessibility, buildings, and the spatial environment and public space.

Overall, this Special Volume documents and analyses real-life action in cities and communities around the world to respond to sustainability challenges and it provides critical insights into how to catalyse, intensify and accelerate sustainable urban transformation globally.

A main finding of the articles is that governance and planning are the key leverage points for transformative change.

>> Click here to see the lead article for the Special Volume

>> Click here to see the entire Special Volume

Bicycles: Machines for disaster recovery

Posted in Models, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 30th, 2012

Source: The Atlantic Cities

Photo © Sarah Goodyear

From an article in early November by Sarah Goodyear, talking about Bicycle Habitat’s emergency supplies deliveries around New York after Hurricane Sandy:

New Yorkers are learning things from this storm, and from the relief efforts that are ongoing even as another weather front sweeps through this afternoon, forcing another round of evacuations. Practical things. They are learning where to go for help, and how to help each other. They are learning how to get around when the transportation system fails, and the importance of redundancy and resiliency in all kinds of infrastructure. They are learning what you really need to have on hand when supply chains are disrupted, and what you can do without. They are learning how to assess the accuracy of information, and how to spread it. They are learning that individual efforts, pooled together, can make a substantial material difference in a crisis.

Bicycles are part of all this. In the early days after the storm, when the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.

Many of those of us who use bikes for transportation in better times knew their potential to help out in disaster already. Bikes have been part of my family’s emergency plan since we first made one in the wake of 9/11. After we had a kid, we planned for his bike needs at every stage, from a seat on the back to a bike trailer to a tandem to his own solid ride that would go any distance. A friend suggested on Twitter that the Office of Emergency Management should encourage bike tuneups as part of basic disaster preparedness measures, like a go bag or stockpiles of food and water. Yes to that.

Sure, there are lots of things that bicycles can’t do, or that motor vehicles can do better, if they’re available. Some Bicycle Habitat customers drove heavier donations, like bottled water and canned food, out to the Rockaways to supplement the bicycle effort.

But as I pedaled along the streets of the peninsula, my panniers filled with hand warmers and tampons and energy bars, I was struck again by the power of the bicycle. It is a machine that is uniquely able to leverage and amplify human effort. And this is precisely what we have seen all over the city in the days since the storm hit: The humble work of individual people, harnessed to simple mechanisms, can gain strength exponentially. And move a city forward.

Read the full article by Sarah Goodyear.

Hester Street Collaborative offers compelling example of pro bono community design work

Posted in Models, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on February 14th, 2011

Via ChangeObserver

Image by Hester Street Collaborative

Ernest Beck writing for a “series of models of how architecture and design firms do pro bono” describes how one firm approaches the complex issues surrounding “designing for the public good”.

The article describes in detail how the firm approached its engagement with the community in order to “sustain the commitment” for infrastructure required for serious work.

From Hester Street Collaborative By Ernest Beck

For Marc Turkel, Morgan Hare and Shawn Watts, partners in Leroy Street Studio, a small architecture firm in New York’s Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood, the solution has been a two-pronged approach: to integrate community design elements into a practice that services a broad cross-section of clients, and separately, to nurture an autonomous nonprofit unit, the Hester Street Collaborative (HSC), that spearheads community design programs. Taken together, they form an unusual model in the field of design and social change.


The architects put together a design education program that included building a sculpture garden with the students. “The idea wasn’t to create the next generation of architects and designers, but to allow students to improve their environment,” Frederick explains.

It’s a great article about the how the development of different approaches to complex problems can be successful as well as a great example of how a business can engage with a local community that it is part of.

Read the article

Solar Access Sharing Startup in the US

Posted in Models, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on January 19th, 2011

by Dayna Burtness via Springwise

Image by Davide Cassenti via flickr under this Creative Commons license.  See also

The new real estate is your roof (or even your front yard).  With new thinking, the right information, being connected and a little entrepreneurship, new models of sustainability and new economic value can be revealed.   Put all of this together and you get Seglet.

Solar power is not quite as straightforward in the United States as it is in many other countries, largely because there is no countrywide policy on solar encouragement. Nonetheless, rooftops and other sunny spaces remain a desirable asset for utility companies and independent power producers, and that’s where Seglet comes in. The California-based site aims to connect property owners with commercial and individual users interested in renting or profit-sharing rooftops and other property segments.

Property owners begin by listing their roof or open land for free; Seglet automatically adds solar radiation and other details. Energy companies, independent power producers, energy consultants, investors, urban agriculturalists and others in need of sunny, open space can then browse through Seglet when they need a location for a new project. Along with each listing, they can easily see the site’s solar radiation, wind speed and wind direction, and meteorological data.

Read the rest

A sign of the cities to come – 2 reports into Australian cities

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on January 12th, 2011

Article by Sara Phillips via ABC Environment blog

Image by buiversonian via flickr under this Creative Commons license (the description of this image on flickr is great)

Two reports about Sustainable Cities in Australia (not so recent but still interesting). The interesting thing about these reports is the context in which they were researched and the organisations that commissioned them. One is through the Australian Conservation Foundation and the other was undertaken by KPMG on behalf of Built Environment Meets Parliament, the lobbying arm of a collection of planners and developers. The context of the reports was “…that if we want an understanding of how sustainable we are as a nation, we need to look to our cities.”

The article includes,

The ACF report measured publicly available information across 15 separate parameters. Predictably, for an organisation originally established to protect Australian flora and fauna, the ACF examined such measures as amount of land given over to parks, and ecological footprint – the theoretical amount of land required to create the goods and services used each day by a city’s citizens.

What is most interesting, however, is that the ACF also included measures of economic prosperity. They looked at debt levels for households and employment data. The inclusion of these measures, according to Matthew Trigg, report co-ordinator from the ACF, was because even the greenest city is not sustainable if its economy is not.

“Sustainability is not just about the environment. Economic issues become environmental issues and environmental issues are wrapped up in economic issues. The two are intertwined.”


Meanwhile, KMPG, which does not have a reputation for being a firm overrun with dreadlocked hippies, included many measures of environmental sustainability in its report. Taking its cues from COAG, KPMG reviewed cities’ plans for “social inclusion, productivity and global competitiveness, climate change mitigation and adaptation, health, liveability, community wellbeing, housing affordability and matters of national environmental significance.”

Read the rest

New York’s transportation chief is a latter-day Robin Hood

Posted in Models, Movements, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on January 10th, 2011

By Matt Seaton via The Guardian Bike Blog

Image by mrtruffle via flickr under this Creative Commons licence

Janette Sadik-Khan’s brilliant marketing of sustainable transport (dedicated bike lanes, cycle sharing, even pedestrianising Times Square) has transformed New York. Now for that congestion charge …

This is a great article about how the landscape for riding and walking in NYC has been transformed.  This has been done by presenting a business case argument but of course the benefits are manifold.  I liked the quote about how pedestrian’s are most economically valuable participants on the street and should be treated accordingly.

Read the rest

Sustainable Cities: Challenges for the Asia Pacific – Series podcast from

Posted in Opinion, Research, Sustainable Cities by Rob Eales on November 16th, 2010

This series of podcasts from 2008 from ABC Radio, Radio Australia.  It discusses the challenges of cities in the Asia Pacific region with a broad range of local and regional participants.  It discusses transport, infrastructure and livability along with community and identity, how they are defined, exist, can be planned for as well as how they affect the fabric of cities.

It is still current and thought provoking, with the local participants providing a broad range of technical, historical and cultural viewpoints from across the region.

Future biodiversity – The role of cities and local authorities

Posted in Models, Research, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 10th, 2010

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Image: AcidFlask via flickr.  CC license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Image: AcidFlask via flickr CC license

Slowly out of the shadows by Sturle Hauge Simonsen

Cities demand a stronger voice in curbing global biodiversity loss.
It has yet to receive the same acknowledgment as climate change, but putting the breaks on biodiversity loss is becoming increasingly important on the political agenda.

Reports state that continuing biodiversity loss is predicted, but could be slowed (pending required policy choices) and a Stern review-like report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) has given natural assessments a significant boost.

Better frameworks, please
As countries strived to carve out the careful wordings for a ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the COP10 in Nagoya, cities and local authorities used the momentum to boost their own role in managing biodiversity.

Their message is clear: Give us a better policy framework and we will unfold the local potential to protect global biodiversity.

As the world turns increasingly urban, with more than five billion people projected to live in cities by 2030, it is becoming increasingly recognised that cities are important role players in halting global biodiversity loss.

Read the rest

Could urban heat islands produce geothermal power?

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 3rd, 2010

Via Environmental Research Web

Urban Heat Island by dustinphilips via flickr CC license: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Image: dustinphillips via flickr CC license

From Hot water to get cities out of energy trouble? by Liz Kalaugher

Cities are generally warmer than the rural land surrounding them, in a phenomenon known as the urban heat-island effect. It’s not just above-ground temperatures that rise – the soil beneath also experiences several degrees of warming. Now, researchers have found that the extra heat stored in groundwater beneath cities around the world could provide enough geothermal energy to heat urban homes.

“In most cities, with a variety of populations and climates, the large amount of geothermal energy stored in the urban local subsurface is capable of fulfilling the annual space-heating demand for years and potentially decades,” Ke Zhu of the University of Tübingen, Germany told environmentalresearchweb.

Together with colleagues from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, St Francis Xavier University, Canada, and ETH Zürich, Switzerland, Zhu measured groundwater temperatures in Cologne, Germany, and Winnipeg, Canada. Both cities had extensive underground warming, with temperatures 3–5°C higher than surrounding rural areas. Similarly, the subsurface beneath urban green spaces was cooler than that below business districts.

The urban heat-island effect arises because of factors such as buildings preventing heat from leaving the ground at night, changes in the properties of the ground surface and the absence of plants that provide cooling by evapotranspiration.

“Urban aquifers with elevated temperature are attractive shallow geothermal-energy reservoirs, and meanwhile there is high energy demand just above,” said Zhu. “In our opinion, it is important to study the geothermal potential of urban heat islands before planning large geothermal projects.”

Read the rest