What is Environmental Urban Planning?

Steve Russell - February 11, 2023

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Did you know that by 2050, approximately 62.5% of the global population will live in urban areas? More and more people are migrating to cities to search for new work and living opportunities. Additionally, birth rates in the nation are climbing, adding to the number of people dwelling in urban areas. 

Urban planning is essentially the foundation of any city. Without comprehensive planning, a city will be unable to meet the ever-changing needs of its residents, which can lead to the emergence of other challenges. It’s also commonly understood that as urban areas become more populated, certain human activities can negatively impact the surrounding environment.

A crucial aspect of modern urban planning is taking into account the various environmental factors and how certain city development projects could potentially impact the surrounding environment. 

Let’s take a deeper look at environmental urban planning and how cities around the world are focusing on environmental sustainability during the planning stages. 

Understanding Environmental Urban Planning

In order to understand environmental urban planning, it’s important to first understand the definition of general urban planning. Urban planning, also referred to as city, town, regional or rural planning, is a process that focuses on the development of land use and design in the built environment. 

City planners have numerous responsibilities across various departments. They spend time outlining the logistics behind public transportation systems, communications, distribution networks and public services. This is not an exhaustive list, as city planners are responsible for many other aspects of city development. 

Conventional urban planning did not make the environment and sustainability a top priority. However, the looming climate crisis sparked change and brought environmental concerns regarding urban planning to the forefront. 

Ensuring outdoor air quality, access to clean water, the preservation of natural resources and using land appropriately are critical aspects of sustainable city development. The goal is to support current and future city communities by using sustainable strategies and practices that provide livable and safe conditions for all residents.

Here are some of the key areas of environmental urban planning and development:

  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Technology
  • Materials Science
  • Biology and Environmental Science
  • Transportation
  • Law
  • Economic Development
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Government 

City planners must be well-versed in these areas, but many planners become experts in specific disciplines. For example, some master’s programs focus on transportation, while others offer specializations in community design and development. 

Environmental Urban Planning Creates Sustainable Cities

City planners must take various environmental aspects into consideration so they’re better positioned to build sustainable cities. 

Sustainable cities incorporate eco-friendly practices to reduce air pollution, protect natural resources, lower the amount of carbon emissions and other beneficial strategies to benefit the environment. Here are some examples of the critical traits of a sustainable city include:

  • Access to green spaces and public resources
  • Sufficient EV charging stations
  • Supportive of urban farming
  • Utilizes green architecture
  • Traveling without dependence on gas-powered vehicles
  • Water conservation, wastewater management and waste reduction

All of these characteristics of a sustainable city are directly linked to environmental urban planning. Cities with these qualities are better prepared to handle increases in their populations.

As populations increase, the demand for energy, resources and space increase, which would strain a traditional city’s infrastructure. If a city does not have the proper systems in place, residents might face more challenges and have a lower quality of life. Environmental urban planning can also positively impact public health within cities. 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) established a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals. These goals represent a call to action for nations around the world to end poverty, protect the environment and foster peace and prosperity for the future. 

The 17th SDG outlined by the UN is Sustainable Cities and Communities. Sustainable cities cannot exist without transforming how the world builds and manages some of the largest cities with the highest populations, according to the UN. 

For each SDG, the UN includes a number of smaller milestones that will contribute to reaching the overall goal of building sustainable cities and communities. Some examples of these milestones, which the UN wants to achieve by 2030, include:

  • Access to safe and affordable housing and basic services, and upgrading slums
  • Access to affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems 
  • Improving road safety by strengthening public transport, and meeting the needs of  vulnerable populations (women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons)
  • Enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization, capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • Protect the cultural and natural heritage

As several different entities and professionals come together to work toward these goals, they will likely face their fair share of challenges. 

Today, cities worldwide already grapple with a plethora of obstacles. For example, some cities deal with housing crises, lack of clean water and smog. They will need to spend extra time anticipating future ones and forming potential solutions to avoid them. 

The Role of Technology in Sustainable, Smart City Development

New technologies will play a significant role in environmental urban planning in the future. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), 5G, renewable energy sources and more will support virtually every aspect of environmental urban planning. Cities with these technologies are already reporting several benefits for the region and its citizens.

It’s worth noting that one direct result of environmental urban planning is the emergence of smart cities. A smart city, as its name suggests, leverages “smart” technologies, such as those listed above, for specific purposes. For example, renewable energy sources, like solar, create green buildings and AI can be used to improve city traffic management.

Some primary goals of smart cities include improving the quality of life and living standards for citizens, achieving environmental sustainability, supporting local businesses and providing new job opportunities. 

Finding Sustainable Solutions for Urban Planning and Development

It’s clear that a massive amount of work, time, money and effort goes into traditional city planning. However, nations around the world will likely prioritize sustainable development, meaning the role of the city planner will shift. 

City planners, construction firms, politicians, public services employees and other personnel must collaborate to ensure successful results. In other words, “it takes a village,” to build a sustainable city.

It’ll be interesting to see how environmental urban planning impacts city operations and contributes to the smart city trend. The ultimate goal is to cultivate a sustainable, reliable urban region for future generations. 

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.