Paving the way to a greener tomorrow

26th September 2023

From Europe to India, a range of projects demonstrate how city living can nurture the environment.

As urbanisation continues its relentless march across the globe, city leaders face mounting pressure to develop sustainable and liveable cities. But what exactly does ‘sustainability’ mean in an urban context?

At its core, urban sustainability refers to cities that meet the needs of current residents without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. By integrating sustainability into urban planning and management, cities can promote resource efficiency, environmental protection and enhanced quality of life.

Sustainable construction practices are instrumental in creating environmentally friendly and resource-efficient urban environments. These include using eco-friendly building materials, such as bamboo and recycled metals.

Showing how it’s done

In Mumbai, the Collage House explores various aspects of reusing and upcycling. It has recycled doors and windows from demolished urban dwellings, giving a nostalgic ambience that is accentuated by columns that are more than a century old, salvaged from a historic house. One of the courtyard walls also showcases cladding made out of discarded stone fragments from stone-cutting yards.

Incorporating energy-efficient architectural design and implementing renewable energy systems are two other ways to reduce a city’s environmental footprint. As part of the GrowSmarter initiative (see, Barcelona is showcasing energy-efficiency solutions that could be used by other European cities to reduce the environmental impact of their district energy systems.

Retrofitting existing buildings is key
to reducing emissions from the construction sector by 90% by 2050. GrowSmarter prototype retrofits across more than 120,000m2 in three cities evaluated both passive and active technologies for improving energy performance. Undertaking building energy retrofits provides multiple benefits, including energy and emissions savings, increased property value and job creation. The project highlights that national strategies must prioritise retrofitting existing structures to create low-energy districts and sustainable cities.

Bringing biodiversity

Preserving and enhancing urban biodiversity is also key. In Copenhagen, CopenHill is a waste-to-energy plant, topped with a ski slope, hiking trail and climbing wall. Grass flourishes along the slope’s edges, alongside sizeable shrubs and trees. #

It is designed to function as a ‘green bomb’, rejuvenating the neighbouring industrial zone as seeds disperse from vegetation, and birds, bees and butterflies take up residence there.

Landscape architect SLA has planted 7,000 shrubs and 300 trees on the sloping rooftop and, since the completion of the complex in 2019, the company’s biologists have monitored its biodiversity. In 2020, they discovered an additional 56 plant and tree species, on top of the number of species originally identified, bringing the total count to 119.

Sustainable to the core

As cities continue to grow, it is imperative to implement strategies such as sustainable construction, energy efficiency, waste reduction and biodiversity preservation to build liveable and resilient urban environments.

Following the lead of innovators such as Mumbai, Barcelona and Copenhagen, cities worldwide must view green infrastructure and sustainability as integral to urban development rather than as an optional add-on. By taking bold steps today, cities can pave the way towards a greener tomorrow, where people and nature can thrive in harmony.

The path to sustainable urban areas requires vision and commitment, but the destination is well worth the journey.

Zhen Qu is a BSc Environmental Geoscience graduate at UCL


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