What is a green city, and how is it built?

What is a green city, and how is it built

The world continues to grapple with the impacts of the climate crisis and businesses are increasingly working to embrace environmental sustainability. Addressing the sustainability of our cities could be a real game-changer. Current urban development patterns often reinforce the disconnect between nature and humans and undermine biodiversity.  

Cities are a significant contributor to climate change, land-use change, the introduction of invasive species, and nitrogen deposition. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the concept of green cities is becoming increasingly important as we work to establish more environmentally friendly and sustainable urban areas.

What is a green city? 

A green city, or as it is sometimes described, a sustainable or eco-city, is an urban enclave where construction, design, and operation prioritise the preservation of the natural world alongside the social, physical, and economic health and wellness of the city’s inhabitants. 

These cities take the long view by curbing damage to local ecologies and creating compact resilient urban spaces that will offer shelter for many generations to come. Issues such as biodiversity, conservation, air and water quality, and land use are carefully considered when establishing a green city. 

In a time when we are tackling an environmental crisis, sustainable cities could also be able to adapt to the changing climate and withstand extreme weather events such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. Most modern cities are not sustainable despite their best efforts. 

Common features of green cities include things like community gardens, rooftop gardens, cycling infrastructure, LEED-certified buildings made from green concrete, renewable and locally sourced wood or recycled plastics, and zero-emission renewable energy. In a lot of cases, cars are also banned in green cities, and public transport, cycling, or walking is the norm. 

Why build green cities? 

Some argue that green cities are not only attainable but key to our survival. The main driver behind green cities is the need to protect the natural world and all humans living on Earth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that unless we make drastic changes within the next few years, the environmental damage will worsen beyond repair, and the planet will become inhospitable. 

If we can retrofit cities to conserve landmass, limit the use of automobiles, and draw power from renewable energy sources, this alone could help us make a serious contribution to reducing carbon emissions. Eco-cities also lessen the impact of cities on surrounding ecosystems since they call for mindful upward and compact construction on a smaller footprint. 

Green cities can also bring benefits to mental and physical health by making cities more walkable and ensuring that amenities are easily accessible by bike or foot. One recent study revealed 57 percent of people who identified their community as walkable described their quality of life as high. Sustainable cities also encourage interconnectivity, which has been found to reduce rates of depression and anxiety. By contrast, those living in today’s poorly designed cities were associated with almost a 40 percent increase in mood-related disorders. 

How to build a green city

Green cities have a range of different characteristics to ensure they pose minimal threat to the environment and prioritise human health and wellbeing. One of the initial areas to address when making a city more sustainable is transportation. Sustainable cities will prioritise alternative methods of transportation like public transport, cycling, and walking, and even in some cases, completely ban cars.

Green cities will also feature greenery and open public green spaces, which are undeniably good for public health but also help reduce pollution and enhance biodiversity. Eco-cities will also feature green architecture as a means to reduce carbon emissions. Features of green architecture include smart heating and cooling systems, solar panels, and natural building materials like bamboo or stone. 

A green city will also determine the best possible ways to conserve water and manage waste. Some water conservation practices a green city may employ include green infrastructure like restoring wetlands and rainwater harvesting. In terms of waste, green cities often adopt strong recycling programmes and have stricter rubbish collection policies.

The rise of green cities

Green cities are a testament to the potential of urban areas to be catalysts for sustainable development. Many cities around the world have already begun to make changes to become more sustainable. 

From pioneering waste management in Stockholm to harnessing renewable energy in Amsterdam, these cities are certainly at the forefront of environmental innovation. Given the benefits green cities can offer for the environment, human health and wellbeing, and the economy, we should hope to witness more of these efforts.

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