Sustainable urbanism: smart urban development

Sustainable urban development seeks to have a positive impact on three aspects of cities: the environmental, economic and social areas. Oslo has been named the world’s most sustainable city in 2022

Sustainable urbanism refers to designing cities bearing in mind the ecological principles of sustainable urban development.
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If we want to discuss sustainable urban planning, we have to travel back a few years in time, to the moment at which the foundations of the cities of the future were laid. The Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities was signed in 2007. It identified the use of integrated urban development policies and a focus on the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods as key elements. Since then, sustainable urbanism has taken giant steps towards becoming the present and future of cities.

According to the data that can be gathered from the Report on the status of the main actions and initiatives in the field of urban sustainability in Spain, the Basque Country, Andalusia and Navarre are the autonomous communities that are making the greatest effort to achieve true smart and sustainable urban development.

What is sustainable urbanism and smart urbanism?

Sustainable urbanism is the planning and design of cities upon the basis of ecological principles. Smart urbanism can also be defined as the development of cities by harnessing the new technologies to create spaces committed to the environment and society.

In any event, the aim is to improve three very important aspects: the environmental, economic and social areas. A combination of the three makes neighbourhoods and cities more sustainable and socially-engaged places.

Sustainable urban development objectives

As outlined above, the objectives of urban sustainability mark the areas of impact in which they seek to have the greatest influence.

Environmental: A sustainable neighbourhood seeks to generate the minimum impact on the environment and the territory. It entails being as self-sufficient as possible without relying on other environments, consuming as few resources as possible and cutting emissions and waste.

Economic: For sustainable urban development to be feasible, it has to be economically viable for those who plan the city, but also for those who’ll live in it.

Social: The quality of life of the population is essential for a city or neighbourhood to meet its social needs. This is exemplified by the “fifteen-minute city”, which, in turn, also has a positive impact on the productivity of its inhabitants and the sustainability of the environment. The concept of this ideal is the work of Carlos Moreno, an expert in smart cities, who points to the need to redesign cities to ensure that their inhabitants can reach all their services (schools, work, leisure, food, health, etc.) within fifteen minutes on foot or by bicycle.

Characteristics of a sustainable neighbourhood

To achieve these objectives, the urban sustainability indicators should include, among others, the following characteristics:

  • Use of renewable energies
  • Promotion of the circular economy
  • Implementation of urban gardens
  • Development of an efficient street network
  • Revitalisation of the neighbourhood economy
  • Sustainable mobility options
  • Inclusion of citizens in decision-making

Examples of sustainable cities

According to the 2022 Arcadis ranking, in which a hundred cities were rated to find the most sustainable cities in the world, Oslo was found to be the most sustainable city on the planet. It’s followed by Stockholm, Tokyo, Copenhagen and Berlin. Madrid and Barcelona appear in the 28th and 49th positions, due to the results they obtained in the urban sustainability indicators.

With a magnifying glass in hand, several examples of sustainable neighbourhoods can be found in Spain. La Pinada in Valencia is regarded as the first sustainable neighbourhood designed by its own inhabitants.

Meanwhile, the 2030 Sustainable Cities Challenge has been promoted by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge in its mission to evolve towards having smart and climate-neutral cities by 2030.


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