Does a city need to depend on its surrounding suburbs and towns? Can it be self-reliant? Urban sustainability is the concept of cities or urban areas equipped to be self-sufficient, in terms of energy requirements, water supply, and sanitation facilities, distribution of resources, food, etc. 

Urban areas should be able to produce their own energy preferably using renewable resources, reducing the amount of pollution generated, thus minimizing their contribution to climate change. There should also be efficient use of land, along with waste-minimization. 

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The number of people living in urban areas is going to increase tremendously by the year 2050. Reports claim that around 70% of the world’s population will live in cities and urban centers. These urban centers are considered to be the ‘growth drivers’ of the future, where technology is expected to play a huge part. 

Though the cities can become places of social and economic mobility, they can also become cores of inequality and environmental degradation. Thus, urban sustainability becomes an important topic and needs to be incorporated into urban life; urban systems need to be organized well and maintained.

Principles of Urban Sustainability

The principles of sustainability reinforce the definition of the term- to make living comfortable for the current generation without affecting the future generations. The principles include- human, social, economic, and environmental. All of these principles are intertwined, making it hard to distinguish them clearly. 

Human and Natural Systems

The sustainability of urban areas circles around healthy people, a healthy environment, and healthy human-environment interactions. For a city to thrive, human well-being and health are of utmost importance. However, maintaining human health at the cost of natural urban ecosystems will not only degrade the livability but also undermine urban sustainability in the long run. Therefore, the approach to sustainability should be based on scale, allocation, and distribution.

Taking advantage of the economy to scale, while keeping up the basic ideas of urbanism, is what is required. The time and cost of obtaining resources should be minimized, that is, resources should be more accessible. Proximity plays a role too. Having optimum infrastructure boosts the efficiency of the land, also increasing opportunities for diverse interactions. 

All these choices, however, should be community-driven. Urban sustainability is a community-level concern; it cannot be addressed individually. 

Environmental Concerns

The environmental principle of urban sustainability deals with land use, land development, integration of urbanization and industrialization into land-use, environmental quality and restoration, livable and healthy cities, environmental protection, resource and material recycling, and upcycling and social inclusiveness and cultural promotion.

It aims to promote environmental quality and ecological restoration, impact air quality, promote green building techniques and green communities, promote renewable energy, and reduce and reuse solid waste. Through efficient land-use, focus can be directed to mixed-used development involving sustainable economic growth and well-planned infrastructure. Following city construction guidelines, dynamic urban spaces should be created with interconnected, slow-traffic systems.  

The use of green building techniques promotes the latest technology, materials, and equipment and focuses on recycling building products while minimizing waste.

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Human Sustainability

Human sustainability includes investment in health and education, access to services, nutrition, knowledge, and skill development. There is a need for continuous growth even though the space available and resources are limited. Human sustainability is the idea humans are directly or indirectly involved in the making of products or provision of services. 

In order to maintain urban sustainability, human sustainability is very important, that is, promoting the health of the community and society.

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Social Sustainability

Our society is guided by a framework. This framework is one of services and investments. Social sustainability aims to preserve this framework. Social sustainability deals with community, society, culture, and globalization. It focuses on maintaining social quality- the quality of the relationships between people. 

The economy, society, and the ecological system are inter-dependent. The principle of urban sustainability promotes social and economic improvement that also protects the environment. It can be encouraged by laws, information, and shared ideas.

Economic Sustainability 

Social sustainability aims to improve social equality. Economic sustainability aims to improve the standard of living. However, this cannot be done at the expense of the ecological and social components of sustainability. 

The boundary between urban and rural is fading fast, leading to the flow of commodities, capital, information, and humans (migration leading to urbanization). These resources support urban areas and activities (economic activities, social dimensions, ecological activities). 

Interconnected Cities

Cities are not stand-alone units, they are interconnected. Urban sustainability includes a complex network of interdependent subsystems, with different time-scales and spatial requirements. Understanding one system does not mean one has understood the entire system. As the network grows, urban areas or cities keep expanding, engulfing the suburbs and towns surrounding the city. This creates issues of economic inequality, political and class inequalities, and disparity in health services and immediate assistance. 

Increasing economic prosperity and engaging citizens in various activities help establish the concept of urban sustainability. 

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All the principles need to be upheld to attain urban sustainability. Do remember, this is not a one-time activity, it is a process to which each individual has to contribute, to live comfortably at present along with a consideration for the future.  



Meghna Patnaik is a third year B.Arch student who has begun to explore her writing potential in architectural journalism. She looks forward to writing, not only to enhance her understanding of architecture, but also because she is passionate about it. She is also an ardent baker.

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