With the increasing climate change and population, our cities face a major problem of sustainability. Henceforth, to tackle the situations, cities are being designed to be more sustainable and to take into consideration various social, economic, environmental impacts to produce more resilient and liveable cities with minimum ecological footprint and pollution. To achieve this, we are listing some topics which need to cater to while designing.

10 Things to remember when designing sustainable cities - Sheet1


1. Link sustainable urbanization with rural prosperity

Cities only produce a minimal amount of food and other services they need, for the surplus amount they are dependent on rural areas. Cities’ conjoint relationship with the region in which they are situated is critical for sustainability. Cities can provide economic, educational, health, and social opportunities for people who live in the countryside. The flow of goods, services, and money between urban and rural areas will facilitate the growth of secure, healthy, and prosperous livelihood for rural and urban residents.

2. Affordability-Adequacy-Viability in infrastructure 

The infrastructure of the city should be developed for the growing needs and economic background of the region. Housings should be affordable and inclusive so that no one is homeless. It should be adequately designed to respect the culture, context, and environment. Infrastructure should aim to be light on earth and should utilize the renewable resources of energy. 

One such example is the Vikas community housing in Auroville, where the building is built using the excavated earth. It treats the wastewater and is released into a thriving marine ecology built by the inhabitants. They also grow their food which is then prepared in the community kitchen.

3. Alternative forms of energy to reduce overconsumption of resources

Cities consume about 75% of the world’s energy demand and contribute around 80% of global pollution. Sustainable cities should aim at reducing the non-renewable energy demand and switching towards a cleaner and environmentally-friendly renewable energy sources. It should reduce the energy levels that would help cities become sustainable.

For example- Many countries are switching towards solar power to generate daily energy needs.

10 Things to remember when designing sustainable cities - Sheet2
©energy systems

4. Respect the symbiotic relationship of the city and the ecosystem

Ecosystem conservation within cities is not only important for the ecological biodiversity but also to protect the balanced and critical ecosystem services which provide clean air, reduced temperatures, drainage, and flood control. If conserved properly, it also provides a rich and diverse source of food and recreational locations for the citizens. Maintaining a balanced ecosystem and achieving a symbiotic relationship between urban and ecologically important areas, is very important for achieving the sustainability of resources.

Example- Vancouver, New York, London are some examples where cities are engaged in proper conservation of the breathing lungs of the city.

10 Things to remember when designing sustainable cities - Sheet3
©New York post

5. Reducing pollution

Since the industrial revolution, the amount of air and water pollution that is generated by cities has increased exponentially every year. Cities contribute to 80% of total world pollution and are the major contributor to waste generation. Waste generated by current cities ends up in oceans or landfills, this pollution, in turn, harms the ecosystem, degrades the living conditions, and increases the risk of various health factors that could be born out of it. To achieve sustainability and improve the living conditions, cities have to be designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the amount of waste it generates and switch to cleaner resources.

Example- Mexico implemented a series of programs to encourage the use of public transport, switching to electric buses, providing city bikes, and adopting technology that could reduce energy demand and emissions of various harmful particulates and gases.

10 Things to remember when designing sustainable cities - Sheet4

6. Urban resilience

Urban resilience is the ability of the city to safeguard the population and survive during times of stress, shocks, and disasters. Every aspect of a city’s cultural, economic, and geographical dimension should be taken care of to protect cities from future disasters and increase its ability to bounce back from it with minimal issues. Resilience building among the community and its infrastructure and disaster risk reduction will lead to a better life and prosperity for people of every economic background.

example- the Indian city of Surat has achieved resilience through community participation, better planning, and responsive health facilities in times of disaster.

7. Food security- Ending hunger

Cities eat around 75% of the world’s food production, eventually the food the demand of cities exceeds its producing capacity, and then it relies on other sources to meet this demand. For cities to be sustainable they have to produce their food and ensure that no one stays hungry. This issue of food security was widely witnessed during a pandemic wherein some cities could not provide enough food due to disruption in supply chains. Producing local and fresh products, introducing urban agriculture is emerging as solutions to meet the demands of urban sectors.

10 Things to remember when designing sustainable cities - Sheet5

8. Deep Decarbonisation of cities

The fundamental challenge here is faced in low income and middle-income groups of countries where smoky, polluting, burning wood are used for cooking. To decrease this, we need to plan and implement affordable, reliable, and modern energy services that will help in deep decarbonization of our environment. Similarly, other areas such as transport, industries need to implement cleaner and minimum energy consumption services to benefit the environment.

9. Provide universal basic services

 Each and everyone should have proper access to water, sanitation, drainage, healthcare, school, law, and empowerment even on policing. Some cities are developed from the center and expanded outward, now, in this case, the peripheries are often not neglected which often leads to increased transport cost, the bare minimum living condition of economically weaker sections. 

10. Reducing inequality across cities

Social inequality, economic inequality, and gender inequality are some of the factors faced by the urban population through spatial segregation of the population. Economic inequalities are often seen in cities that concentrate wealth and poverty through segregation of resources, limiting access to goods and services. In such cities, the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer. A sustainable city should tackle these inequalities and provide equal opportunities for development through affordable housing, employment, healthcare, and affordable transportation.

Example- Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program is reported to have helped over 1.7 million households move out of poverty by providing necessary services and income transfer.

Understanding this topic and implementing various ideas to help overcome the problem will help to design more sustainable cities which would be beneficial not only for humans but also for our Earth.

To conclude this, I quote the Dalai Lama saying, “It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the world in which we live in”.


Nitin Mhapsekar is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in Architecture. He is upskilling and trying different possibilities for his career. He loves travelling and going on adventures as well as using his leisure time to read fictions, cook and research.