Urban sustainability is the practical application of community planning to ensure long-term, viable, and self-sustaining community vitality in urban settings. Sustainability refers to practices developing an environment in which degradation does not exceed the capacity of regeneration within the system. An example would be a public park. If the number of visitors exceeds the carrying capacity of the park, degradation occurs and public officials may have to limit hours or visitors to ensure the sustainability of the park’s attributes.
Community planners achieve urban sustainability through a political process that taps the opinions, contributions and expertise of community leaders, special interests, and citizens. A multi-disciplinary approach is applied to urban sustainability creation and maintenance. Experts and officials working within the fields of architecture, transportation, natural resource management, and economic development come together in a collective manner to design solutions to unsustainable practices. Community planners and environmental experts monitor the sustainability on a long-term basis as the urban environment undergoes demographic and environmental changes.
The goals of urban sustainability are sometimes categorized as the triple-bottom line, which addresses the management of three areas, often referred to as profit, people, and planet. John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility, coined the wordplay in 1994. The triple bottom line philosophy ascribes equal importance to each of these three areas. Businesses and communities that pursue this strategy aim to achieve a long-term balance between economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Disciplines within urban sustainability include architectural and community planning, with an eye toward enhancing sustainable transportation choices. These choices may include promotion of pedestrian modes of transportation over other modes. Village clusters, which are also known as town centers or urban villages, may achieve preference with urban planners over suburban communities. This planning strategy clusters housing, transportation hubs, commercial enterprises and social and medical services within walking distance.
The challenges of creating sustainable urban development are significant. Existing architecture and transportation modalities may represent a huge economic investment. These structures were built for permanence and can be replaced only at significant expense. Politically, it is a challenging process to convince people living in a democratic society to destroy and replace these structures, because doing so will affect a person’s habit and mode of transport.
Large companies and organizations may also present obstacles to urban sustainability, as they have an investment in the current structures and modes of transportation. This is why urban planning is a lengthy process typically done in a piecemeal fashion. There are new communities constructed from the ground up that are free from these obstacles to incorporating urban sustainability. These communities may also serve as models and laboratories for understanding the human factor in urban sustainability. By observing the real-life actions of people within these planned communities, urban planners may discover data that will lead to more sustainable urban communities in the future.