Sustainable cities

Sustainable Cities

Half of the world’s population lives in metropolitan areas and large cities. These cities will continue to grow in the coming decades, partly due to migration flows caused by climate change. Cities attract people and businesses. Cities offer work, living space, social and cultural facilities, and leisure opportunities.

The growth of cities presents politicians and administrators with new challenges:

  • Climate adaptation: preventing heat stress and flooding;
  • Energy transition: making space for renewable energy generation;
  • Circular construction: using scarce raw materials sparingly, exploiting opportunities for bio-based construction;
  • Nature-inclusive building: cities host particular niches for protected species; thus, there are opportunities for improving biodiversity;
  • Sustainable mobility: due to their size, cities offer opportunities for the transition to electric (public) transport and sustainable urban logistics;
  • Digitization: The Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are promising developments for the transition to a new economy;
  • Health: a healthy living environment means improving environmental quality as well as promoting health (walking, cycling, green spaces);
  • Multiple uses of space: Densification should not come at the expense of other interests, such as health promotion, climate adaptation, and protection of forests and natural areas outside the city.

Can all these ambitions be combined? Physical space is not always widely available. Cities adopt different design strategies in combining and realising sometimes conflicting ambitions and interests.

Business parks

Business parks are prone to contribute to the energy transition. They provide space for different (combinations of) energy activities:

  • wind turbines along the edges;
  • plenty of suitable roof area for solar panels;
  • biomass plants producing green gas and heat;
  • hydrogen and green gas storage;
  • Sewage treatment plants supplying residual heat;
  • geothermal heat extraction (geothermal) plant;
  • fast charging stations, induction charging, and a hub for electric urban distribution.


The layered approach distinguishes three layers that vary in the pace of development and the period in which changes occur. Soil and subsoil change much slower than the networks and occupation patterns above them. Exploration of soil and subsoil provides insight into opportunities for underground transport, parking, energy storage and geothermal energy. This information is essential when locating and designing residential and working areas, including (multimodal) infrastructure. A case in point is ensuring that homes and workplaces are not built in areas vulnerable to flooding. In the long term, this would not be a sustainable choice.

The ‘compact city’ strategy ensures that valuable natural areas, landscapes and open spaces remain intact. Multiple (multifunctional) use of space and combinations of functions are design principles promising efficient and sustainable urban designs. Such designs must consider other interests and sustainability ambitions, such as climate adaptation and health. There are limits to how urban densification offers a solution for economising the available space.

The future of sustainable urban development

Our world faces significant challenges in making urban regions more sustainable. In the face of accelerating climate change and an urgent need for sustainable practices, cities worldwide are implementing innovative strategies. These approaches are essential for creating a green and sustainable future. They contribute to a radical transformation in how cities are planned and developed. It requires a renewed vision of urban structures and processes so that they can be effectively made sustainable.

Core principles of sustainable cities

To shape future cities, we must focus on sustainable urban development. A concept that is increasingly central to urban policy worldwide. At the heart of sustainable urban development are three crucial principles: Energy transition, Climate adaptation and Circular economy. Each of these principles plays a vital role in the transition to more sustainable cities:

  • Energy transition: Shifting to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, and investing in energy storage (batteries, hydrogen) is essential for reducing carbon emissions and promoting energy efficiency.
  • Climate adaptation: Adapting cities to the changing climate is crucial. This principle includes installing green roofs and water storage ponds, improving stormwater drainage infrastructure and strengthening flood resilience.
  • Circular economy: The pursuit of an economy that minimises using raw materials and continuously reuses and recycles materials.

These principles are essential to transforming cities into resilient, sustainable communities prepared for future challenges.

Envisioning a green, healthy city

Green cities must continue to innovate and commit to the environment and sustainability, requiring a coordinated effort between different levels of government and sectors. Crucial to sustainability is focusing on education and increasing public awareness about sustainability. Through education, citizens can better understand the importance of sustainability and how they can contribute to environmentally friendly initiatives. Then, envisioning a green, healthy city is a powerful driver for change and innovation in sustainable urban development.