The world's most sustainable cities
What characteristics does a city have to have in order to be considered sustainable? For Arcadis, a consulting firm specialized in this subject, there are three pillars that must be taken into account when measuring the sustainability of a city.
These three pillars include:
The social aspect where life expectancy, obesity rates, conciliation, crime, living costs and dependency are some of the variables that evaluate the quality of life of citizens.
The environmental aspect which is measured through the implementation of clean energy, pollution, recycling and composting rate, mobility, disaster risk, emission levels, etc.
The economic aspect which is an index that evaluates aspects of the possibilities of undertaking a successful business in the city, tourism, GDP, connectivity or employment rates.
Using a combination of these three indices, Arcadis and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (UK) periodically evaluate a list of the most sustainable cities in the world.
The latest research available is from 2016 and analyses 100 large cities using 32 different indicators. Many cities score very well in the social and environmental aspects, but they lack in the economic aspect. And, no matter how habitable and green a city may be, if there is no chance of running a business or finding a decent job, it will be a place where the quality of life is not adequate and where long-term sustainability cannot be guaranteed.
Why is it important to analyse the sustainability of the big cities of the planet? In an increasingly urban world, with major environmental challenges ahead, sustainability should be at the top of the political agenda. To do this, it is necessary to know in depth in which aspects each city 'lacks in' in order to put more emphasis on them, and to learn from the initiatives that have already been launched in other places to improve the quality of life in everyday life.
Sustainable cities for better living
“As a citizen, I see how sustainability affects my neighbours on a daily basis: water scarcity, climate change, rising house prices, access to employment... all these are factors that affect our quality of life," says John Batten, director of Arcadis Global Cities in the introduction to the report.
The report analysed 100 cities and their level of sustainability.
The Swiss city, at the top of the list of sustainable cities, is an example of the disparity between the indices used: while it is number 1 in the environmental index and number 5 in the economic opportunities index, it is only in 27th place in the social aspect.
It was in Zurich that the concept of a "society of 2,000 watts per capita" was born, and this is the goal that has been set for 2050, which is a challenge in terms of energy saving. In addition, its public transport network is an example to follow, as it is highly efficient and sustainable.
This is not the first time we have talked about Singapore as an example of sustainability, as it is also number 2 in the list of the cities with the most trees in the world.
The Swedish capital is ranked number 3 in the list of sustainable cities thanks to initiatives such as the transformation of Hammarby Sjöstad, a former industrial area that is now Stockholm's first eco-neighbourhood, with closed circuits of water, waste and energy.
For several years now, Vienna has been at the top of the list of cities with the highest quality in the world due in part to the safety, low price of housing and the smooth running of its public transport.
Also noteworthy is the Smart City Vienna project, which aims to achieve a city with zero emissions and energy self-sufficiency.
The capital of the United Kingdom is ranked number 5 on the list, especially because of the great economic opportunities it offers (ranked number 3) and its environmental initiatives (ranked number 9) such as low-emission buses or volunteer programmes with high citizen participation.
The main flaw comes in the social aspect (37th place), since it has great problems of mobility and access to housing: we are talking about a city with a very high population density and always growing, with great logistical challenges ahead that it will have to overcome in order to improve the quality of life of its citizens.
The German city offers its inhabitants a good quality of life and a wide range of jobs, since it is one of the economic centers of the country. In addition, it has achieved significant achievements, such as reducing its emissions by 15%.
The capital of South Korea leads the social ranking thanks to programs such as the Seoul 2030 Plan that includes urban planning policies to eliminate discrimination, facilitate access to employment and improve mobility, among others. In addition, its managers are undertaking interesting projects to improve the sustainability of the city, such as the restoration of the river and its surroundings, which has gone from being an area with a high rate of pollution to consolidate as a space for leisure and recreation in the heart of Seoul.
It was European Green Capital in 2011, despite being one of the most densely populated cities in Germany. But 89% of its inhabitants live within 300 meters of a park, and more than 15% of its municipal district is occupied by forests. Its neighbours stand out for their environmental awareness, which is also promoted by the municipality, with initiatives such as the "green shopping guide", with information on sustainable consumption alternatives in the city.
In addition to being a major economic centre in Europe, initiatives have been launched in Prague to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants and reduce environmental impact, particularly in terms of mobility and public transport.
One of the goals of the German city is to become the first city in the world to be supplied solely by renewable energies. In addition, it occupies the third position in the ranking of the cities with the highest quality of life in the world elaborated by Mercer.
Amsterdam scores very equally on all three sustainability indices (Social: 7; Environmental: 19; Economic: 16). In 2016 it was European Capital for Innovation, and many companies in Europe have their headquarters there. In addition, the Dutch capital is continuously investing in the implementation of measures to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants and reduce emissions and environmental impact. It is a safe, equitable and pleasant city to live in. Almost half of Amsterdam's inhabitants travel by bicycle, there are more than 40 city parks and around 1,500 cafés and bars.
According to Treepedia, Genoa has 21% of its surface covered by trees. This is one of the attractions of this old industrial city that is now being reconverted to be an enormously attractive city both for tourism and for people who move there in search of a better quality of life.
The Scottish capital is an important financial centre in the UK, so it has a good supply of employment and lacks or at least does not present as accentuated the major problems of London such as the high price of housing. It is a small and manageable city on foot or by public transport. Details such as the fact that the Scottish Parliament is a smart building that uses 80% of the energy it consumes from renewable sources contribute to the sustainability of the city.
The Danish city is a point of reference to follow for many reasons, and yet it has been described as one of the happiest cities in the world. In terms of sustainability, Copenhagen also has a lot to say to the world: one of its goals for 2025 is to become a carbon-neutral city, and numerous initiatives such as the promotion of green roofs have been set in motion for this purpose.
Although at first glance the French capital does not come to mind as an example of sustainability, the fact is that the Parisian authorities are striving to make the city one of the most sustainable in the world. To this end, an ambitious project called Paris Smart City 2050 has been launched. One of its objectives is to reduce emissions of polluting gases by 75%.