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GREEN Urban Planning |

 Importance of green spaces in urban environments

New York City

Ideally, cities should set out to have land-use plans that conserve as much natural setting as possible. The most sustainable urban plans are city designs with plentiful bike routes and walking paths near green spaces and urban forestry, along with roads that feature natural settings; thus increasing the aesthetics and viability of transportation alternatives.

Sustainable cities prioritize environmental conservation; and invest in protecting, restoring, and maintaining green spaces, urban forestry, and local ecosystems. Cities should also feature walkable city plans; city plans with green spaces, wide sidewalks, wide bike paths, and car-free or low-emissions zones in city centers (or at least timed road closures to cars in order to encourage walking, biking, and mass transit).

Please see:

What Makes a City Sustainable?

[For more great ideas on environmental sustainability, ecological conservation, and urban sustainability solutions; especially in urban environments, please see>> Inhabitat has current real-world examples of eco-friendly solutions that innovative architects, designers in various industries, and sustainable businesses, develop and implement - to incorporate, protect, restore, and maintain ecosystems, and sustainability measures in cities.]

Low-emission Zones

A pioneering low-emissions zone in Europe is in London. The congestion charge, and the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), were pioneered in London. Like Crit'Air throughout France, low-emission zones are designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and other pollution from inefficient fossil fuel cars. Low-emission zones are also designed to get lower emitting, more fuel-efficient vehicles (like electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids, and plug-in hybrids) on the road in place of their dirtier-fueled counterparts.

Another trend-setting European city as far as reducing tailpipe pollution is Oslo, Norway. Oslo is in the midst of putting a citywide ban on fossil-fuel cars; and has the highest rate of EV adoption of any city in the world.

A smaller municipality which has set a sustainable example by greatly reducing vehicles on its roads is the city district of Vauban in Frieburg, Germany. Vauban has effectively reduced the amount of cars on its roads dramatically; by eliminating parking spaces except for a limited quantity of high-priced spaces. Vauban has dedicated most roads in the city to pedestrians, cycling, or mass transit.

Even Manhattan, NYC, is mandating a congestion charge similar to the one in London. Other European cities like Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels, and Madrid, are implementing limitations on fossil fueled cars on their city's roads. In addition to implementing low-emissions zones, these cities are investing in and encouraging alternative forms of transit - such as biking, walking, electric micro-mobility, and public mass transit.

Green Urban Spaces and Urban Forestry

Here is a snippet from an article in CNBC about the importance of green spaces and urban forestry in improving air quality in urban environments:

One solution to help tackle the problem of air pollution [in cities] could be increasing the number of trees and green spaces within urban areas, according to experts. As well as being aesthetically pleasing – the sight of branches covered in blossom can lift even the gloomiest of moods — trees can offer a range of benefits. A number of cities are now making concerted efforts to improve green spaces and boost the number of trees on their streets and in parks.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has stated that one tree can absorb as much as 150 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually. It has also described large urban trees as being excellent filters for urban pollutants and fine particulates.

In addition to absorbing CO2 — an important step in battling climate change — trees can also provide other benefits that may not be immediately obvious.The main thing that trees do [is] help cool the city. So by cooling the city there is less need, for example, for air conditioning costs.”


Reduction of urban sprawl

One major emphasis in sustainable city development has remained the reduction of urban sprawl. Bringing work, home, and shopping as close as possible geographically has become quite important. Ideally, urban development would be concentrated around mass transit, employment opportunities, and commercial centers (shopping/ grocery/ retail outlets and markets). Urban developments should focus on ubiquitous access to mass transit, as well as pedestrian and cycle paths, in proportion to roads for cars.

Sustainable modes of transit that don't necessarily involve vehicles (walking, cycling, electric micro-mobility) remain an option, in addition to public mass transit. The ideal city would be high-density, with focused, concentrated areas of productivity, which have a variety of environmentally and economically sound transportation choices. This is true for highly populated cities; as well as smaller suburban towns.

Vauban, Germany
Vauban, Freiburg, Germany
urban plan of Vauban, Germany
urban planning layout of the city district of Vauban, in Frieburg, Germany

Definitions of urban planning

The more current definitions of urban planning include socioeconomic issues; along with sustainable development goals, conservation of wildlife habitat, green spaces, and efforts to manage urban environmental issues. Modern urban planning is conceived much like a business plan; where potential revenue, environmental attributes, and socioeconomic concerns, are prioritized in order to attract private, general public, and government investments.

Public mass transit is a useful means for illustrating revenue increase in the urban planning process. Areas of an urban environment which are developed closely with access to mass transit see increases in business development and employment opportunities; helping to create productive urban city centers.

A sustainable city incorporates sustainable mass transportation into urban planning; thus addressing environmental, social, and economic concerns. The best modern urban plans develop mass transit around areas that offer a high concentration of employment potential; creating busy urban centers of job growth, economic vitality, and a thriving local economy. Prioritizing sustainable mass transit in urban planning for inner cities, as well as suburbs, also addresses social justice issues; by boosting cities' economies regardless of the socioeconomic status of the given area's residents.

Waste Management

Central to sustainability efforts for any city are substantial waste management measures; also considered 'resource management', as food waste, other municipal waste, wastewater, etc... can be used as vital resources for a city. For example, still usable food "waste" from restaurant kitchens and small businesses, as well as other municipal waste, in combination with agricultural waste streams from farms, can be transformed into energy sources.

Waste is converted into energy in anaerobic digesters, and can help supply power to a city's grid, as seen in Copenhagen, Denmark. Additionally, there are a variety of waste-to-energy technologies that cities should consider investing in. Food and some farm "waste" isn't really "waste" at all, but still usable food goods (albeit less desirable), and can easily be donated to a city's food banks and charities, such as in the case of the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, Texas. Rainwater, and greywater, can be sent through water treatment facilities, and then reclaimed as usable potable water to help meet a city's needs.

Important waste management concepts and measures include conservation, and all cities should consider forming a conservation workforce similar to Greencorps. Cities should form non-profit organizations to: help foster a clean, thriving environment and to help maintain urban forestry, create a zero-waste urban environment, provide assistance with the reuse of resources (as in the case of treated greywater/ rainwater reclamation, and organic material for energy generation and/ or still usable food for food banks), encourage recycling, and help create a circular economy. The following snippet from the website Waste 360 is in reference to Vancouver's Zero Waste Centre:

"Vancouver, British Columbia's Zero Waste Centre is part of the city’s new plan to achieve zero waste by 2040. Vancouver is leading Canadian cities in going green, and that includes the efforts of many Vancouverites to recycle,” says [former] Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Our Zero Waste Centre will help us become the world’s greenest city by making it easier—and in many cases, free—for residents to do their part and recycle or reuse more materials than ever before.”

The Zero Waste Centre replaces a smaller recycling center that took fewer materials. The new facility accepts materials including bicycles, books, cardboard, cell phones, textiles, cooking oil, electronics, glass bottles and jars, foam packaging, household batteries, large and small appliances, lead acid car and truck batteries, plastic bags and overwrap, paper, propane tanks and scrap metal." FROM-


Greenfield site in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, UK
Greenfield site in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, UK

Greenfield sites, LEED, GIS maps

Urban planning draws on engineering and architectural disciplines, as well as social and political concerns. Urban planning is variously a technical profession, an endeavor involving political will and public participation, and an academic discipline. Urban planning concerns itself with both the development of open land (“greenfield sites” - undeveloped land without infrastructure or buildings) and the revitalization of existing parts of the city. Therefore, it involves  goal setting, data collection and analysis, forecasting, design, strategic thinking, and public consultation.

GIS map of Portland, Oregon
GIS map of Portland, Oregon

The process of urban planning involves the disciplines of engineering and architecture; as in transportation and building planning. Ideally, a city striving to become a sustainable city would prioritize green building, especially LEED construction practices. Of critical importance in the ongoing development of modern sustainable cities is the practice of retrofitting existing buildings to high energy efficiency standards; and sustainable mass transportation, especially electrification.

Before these modes of action can be initiated, the political and social will to change development ideas must be brought to the surface. Education and activism become the focus, in order to promote the concepts of sustainability and raise public awareness. Geographic information systems (GIS) maps are ubiquitous tools in modern urban planning. GIS maps are utilized in urban planning to create visualizations and simulations in order optimize and balance environmental, economic, and social concerns; based on a range of urban planning development choices.

Here are four cities that feature cutting-edge sustainable, clean energy, and energy efficient technologies (technologies that exemplify successful urban planning efforts):

Green city: Curitiba- bus rapid transit and urban planning

Green city: urban planning and sustainable transit in Portland

Europe's Greenest City District - Vauban, Germany

Green city: Vancouver

Mass transit helps to reduce GHG emissions

Sustainable mass public transit networks (bus rapid transit, commuter rail,  light rail- trams, trolleys, street cars, etc..., hybrid/ electric buses and alternative form of public transit) -

  • reduce CO2/ other GHGs; improving air quality in cities,
  • increase the energy efficiency of travel by vehicle,
  • decrease the amount of energy needed for transportation,
  • help to produce numerous financial benefits in cities, creating urban centers of productivity,
  • reduce dependence on foreign oil,
  • help to decrease the quantity of vehicles (esp. cars) in cities, and thus the amount of GHGs generated per vehicle passenger. (Whether fossil fuel vehicles, hybrids, or electric vehicles - public transit always decreases the overall amount of GHGs per passenger, because vehicle passenger density is increased.)

The benefits of mass transit in relation to lower fuel consumption than private vehicles involves lower fuel consumption per passenger, as seen in the following statistics from the official website of the state of Delaware:

    • In terms of energy consumption per passenger mile (energy used to transport one passenger one mile), transit is more energy efficient.
    • Buses use 8.7% less energy per passenger mile than a typical automobile.
    • Commuter trains use 23.7% less energy per passenger mile than a typical automobile.

    Fuel efficiency in public transit vs. conventional vehicles:

  • The fuel efficiency of a fully occupied bus is six times greater than that of the average single-occupant auto.
  • The fuel efficiency of a fully-occupied train car is 15 times greater than that of the average commuter's single-occupant auto.   FROM-

As far as carbon-based transit, the amount of oil used per passenger is greatly reduced with the use of any type of sustainable mass transit compared to the use of standard fossil fuel dependent cars. Modern, 21-century transit technologies such as electric light rail and fuel cell buses, in addition to electric vehicles, hybrid electric-biofuel mass transit modes, represent exciting new trends in environmentally sound and economically beneficial mass transit. The higher the quantity and quality of public mass transportation, the greater becomes the opportunity and incentive for people to look beyond traditional car use.

Sydney light rail
Electric light rail in Sydney, Australia

Modern rail modes (commuter rail, light rail) continue to be promising types of sustainable mass public transit; particularly electric urban rail (light rail). Electric light rail (electric trams, trolleys, street cars, etc...) provide various benefits relating to cost effectiveness; and the low maintenance needs, and low energy demands of light rail make this form of transportation highly efficient. Environmental benefits of sustainable public mass transit include the reduction of carbon dioxide, as well as the reduction of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

Traffic congestion is greatly reduced in any urban environment by the development of mass transit, and ultimately light rail systems can replace highways. Urban light rail networks create jobs both by producing a new source of capital, and by creating new, busy economic centers. Not only does electric light rail replace the use of fossil fuels, but the development cost of light rail systems is about half that of building freeways.

An exciting sign of progress in transportation is the further development of electric-only, biodiesel/ ethanol-fueled cars and buses, and hybrid electric-biofuel vehicles. As far as a complete departure from middle-east oil dependency, first world nations must embrace technologies now available which offer alternatives to fossil fuels. Globally, electric and biofuel hybrid buses are the dominant means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transportation while giving the public alternative modes of transit. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles are all transportation technologies which are poised, along with other technologies in the sustainable transportation movement, to make a positive transition for transit. The newest and brightest of these technologies, used in sustainable public mass transit is hydrogen fuel.

A technology which looks promising as far as reducing the carbon footprint of public mass transit in sustainable cities in the future, hydrogen fuel cells, is used in public buses in demonstration projects in many countries in Europe (especially in Denmark, Norway, and Iceland), and Japan – just to name a few. One great benefit of hydrogen fuel is that it produces absolutely zero GHG emissions, with water vapor being the only by-product. Please see - Clean Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC) for more information on hydrogen fuel cell buses.

These cities exemplify successful sustainable urban planning design and implementation:

Green city: Curitiba

Green city: Portland

Green city: Vancouver

Green city: London

Vauban, Freiburg, Germany

Austin, Texas, U.S.

San Diego, California, U.S.

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Please also see:

Sustainable Mass Transportation

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