Critical Debates in Sustainable Urbanism

Academic Paper, 2017

11 Pages, Grade: MA


Critical Debates in Sustainable Urbanism

The processes of globalization, taking place at the present stage of social development, have led to profound social changes. Institutes and values, stereotypes of economic and social behavior of different population groups are changing. Qualitative changes in social conditions had an impact primarily on socio-economic processes in cities, on the rhythm, style, and lifestyle of the urban population. Economic, social, and political transformations in modern society have received the most pronounced territorial dimension, affecting primarily the cities that are the locomotives of these transformations.

In the US, historically developed cities have a clear and compact layout, a mixed character of building-up due to the geographical, transport, and economic factors of the time. However, in the last sixty years, a completely different model of development has appeared. Cities began to grow along the highways and around urban and rural centers due to the appearance of a large number of private cars, cheap fuel, inexpensive land and growing prosperity. Housing construction with low population density began to threaten agricultural lands and damage open spaces, raise public services costs, and encourage people to leave large cities. All this has led to traffic jams on the roads, degradation of environmental and quality of life. Such a model of settlement could arise due to the current town-planning norms of zoning of the territory, which separates residential development from workplaces, shops, and schools. These norms put car drivers in a predominant position in relation to pedestrians. This practice leads to the creation of isolated areas of residential development, as well as business parks, shopping centers, huge parking lots and dull empty business centers. These norms have made walking or cycling a dangerous and unpleasant, they have made the older generation, children, and all those who do not have their own car dependent on car drivers. The existing norms create the prerequisites for the degradation of both cities and open spaces - all that in the 20th century was called in America the “sprawling in all directions” (sprawl). “Sprawl” is a distributed development that is monofunctional and cannot meet daily needs. To counteract this phenomenon, in the 21st century, a need to adjust the existing urban development standards arose (Jepson 2004). It turned out that in most cities, it is impossible to build in accordance with the traditional model of development. Existing standards prevent this. People do not have a choice: the existing design standards contribute to the “creeping” and the isolated existence of residential development.

Realizing this problem, public organizations, citizens, and authorities at all levels began to seek a solution to curb the “sprawl,” preserve open spaces, rebuild cities and suburbs. To combat the “sprawl”, there were movements directly related to the notion of “sustainable development,” “new urbanism and smart growth.” Smart growth establishes the relationship between the development model and the quality of life, applying new policies and practices for improving housing quality, developing green transport, preserving the environment. More and more professionals, elected officials, and ordinary citizens note that the opportunity to solve development problems and other serious contemporary issues depends both on the interaction of federal and regional authorities and on interdisciplinary cooperation (Chifos 2007).

The human habitat (city, village, village, etc.) becomes the base for the implementation of the social strategy of sustainable development. Even now, when designing new urban neighborhoods, it is necessary to build on the principles of sustainability by developing and legislating specific requirements for construction based on the ideas of sustainable development.

The urban concept of sustainable urbanism came into use around the beginning of the 1980-ies. The term “ecocity” was first introduced by the American builder and ecologist Richard Register in 1978. According to the scientist, ecocity is an ecologically clean city. Later, the definition of the Register began to be viewed in a broader sense, and it was defined as a city that is self-sufficient in providing itself with food and energy; while the area alienated for construction and, therefore, the residential area, should be as small as possible (Farr 2007). So the concept of sustainable urbanism arose.

One of the Chinese researchers of the concept of sustainable urbanism, Professor Wang Rusong of the Beijing Research Center for Environmental Sciences defines a sustainable city as an administrative unit with an economically productive and environmentally efficient industry, a systematically responsible and socially harmonious culture and a physically beautiful and functionally animated landscape. The aim of the development of such a city is to plan, design, and build a structurally unified city, taking into account the process of its metabolism, functional stability through cultivation of the ecological landscape, ecological industry, and ecological culture (Kenworthy 2006).

Wendy Mendes in his work Negotiating a Place for ‘Sustainability’ Policies in Municipal Planning and Governance: The Role of Scalar Discourses and Practices writes that “The widespread adoption of sustainability agendas in urban contexts has opened a now well-recognised ‘policy space’ linking sustainability principles with urban development and local politics.” (Mendes 2007, p.95). The work of Mendes represents comprehensive research of the issues and contradictions in the field of debates on sustainable urban development in the context of urban politics and policy-making are constituted by multiscaled sets of interlinked governance processes determined by political strategies (Mendes 2007). The author examines how scalar discourses and practices are applied by various actors to achieve specific outcomes. On the example of food policy development in Vancouver Mendes makes an attempt to consider in detail one of the important components of policies of sustainability in municipal planning and governance.

Another bright example of research of integrated municipal sustainability planning in frames of sustainable urbanism is presented in the work of K. Hanna Planning for Sustainability: Experiences in two contrasting communities, published in 2005 in Journal of the American Planning Association. Hanna emphasizes that the implementation of a policy in sustainable urbanism is as important to municipal planning as the quality of the ideas laid down in the foundation of the policy. The author considers contrasting experience of municipal planning and governance, clearly showing the benefits of sustainable urbanism (Hanna 2005).

The concept of sustainable, or “new urbanism,” was designed to restore the city its original role as a catalyst for social relations (Levesque et al., 2016). In part, this was in contrast to the situation in which cities in the 20th century began to be perceived, designed, and developed as production complexes. New urbanism offers the ideas of creating pedestrian, “humanized” quarters, acting as forming blocks of which “sustainable” neighborhoods/communities of urban residents are “constructed.” First of all, this means a significant reduction in the rate of growth of suburbs, a reduction in losses of agricultural land due to such growth, and special attention to the conservation of protected, green zones by creating small areas with a larger public space. New urbanism presumes the creation of such areas in which most of the facilities are within a 10-minute walk from the house and work, where the streets serve primarily pedestrians. Buildings on these streets are located closer to the road (pedestrian) part and go out to it in storefronts and porches. The streets are characterized by a high density of green spaces, with parking in open spaces. Garages should be in the back lanes, streets have a narrow structure and low throughput. The speed on such streets is essentially limited (Ling, Hanna & Dale 2009).

Streets are connected in such a way that the transport flows are rationally redistributed. It is assumed that the city residents begin to move more often on foot. Undoubtedly, this entails higher requirements for the city's transport and pedestrian network, primarily to its throughput. Increasing mobility is at the forefront. The structure of such a city is characterized by narrow streets, boulevards, and avenues. The correct location of biking and walking paths becomes a key factor in planning spaces.

Only ecologically clean technologies should be used in the building, and respect for the environment and awareness of the value of natural systems is mandatory. When planning spaces, emphasis is placed on increasing the capacity of local production. The energy efficiency of buildings is taken into account and emphasis is placed on reducing the use of non-renewable energy sources.

The principles of sustainable urbanism, which determine the general direction of urban development, are based on the ideology of solving global problems of modern civilization, taking into account the balanced interaction of the natural, socio-economic, and technogenic subsystems in the course of the development of human settlements without harm to future generations (Bulkeley & Betsill 2005).

The essence of sustainable urbanism is the recognition of cities as a habitat. This involves a radical change in what is meant by the measure of urban success and urban life in general. The city, understood as an ecological complex, should lead to the mental and physical health of its inhabitants, structuring itself primarily in accordance with the capabilities and needs of the human body. Since freedom of movement is the basis for the expression of democracy in space, a sustainable city will give preference to one type of movement - human movement. This will have significant consequences for the perception and use of the city.

If pedestrian movement becomes the main means of the urban cycle, then the main construct of the town planning organization will be concentrated clusters - neighborhoods - that will have dimensions and characteristics that meet the needs of pedestrians. This implies that neighborhoods should be largely multifunctional, providing the full range of the daily needs of the population in workplaces, education, commerce, and leisure, important for a full and active life. The pedestrian city must also have a branched architecture. Easily accessible to pedestrians, urban development will have predominantly low architectural forms. Although there may be all kinds of variations, such buildings will be five- or six-storeyed - this is a natural limitation for a constant walk on the stairs. Local mobility - both horizontally and vertically - is extremely important for the health of the body. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity is directly related to our way of organizing settlements, which determines the sedentary mode of movement (Homsy & Warner 2014).


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Critical Debates in Sustainable Urbanism
University of Pennsylvania
Urban studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
urbanism, sustainable city, sustainable development, urban planning
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2017, Critical Debates in Sustainable Urbanism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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