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What Is Sustainable Urban Planning?

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It can be difficult to make environmentally conscious decisions when infrastructure limits your options. For example, the United States remains one of the biggest contributors to road-related greenhouse gas emissions, which is strongly linked to poor urban planning. Many large cities have no public transportation, walkable streets, or safe bike lanes, which means that most people need to own a car to get around. For its population to make the best environmental choices, America needs to change the way it builds its cities.

Fortunately, sustainability careers have gained traction in recent years to become a huge industry across the world. The global investment in sustainability reached $30.7 trillion in 2019, and 59% of business leaders have invested in sustainable technology. Government agencies need to follow their example and invest in sustainable urban development programs. The following changes can help cities ensure that their communities can sustain themselves, reduce environmental impact, and remain livable for the long term.

Sustainable Mass Transit

Investing in sustainable mass transit options is one of the best ways to reduce a city’s overall carbon footprint. Public transportation vehicles, such as buses and trains, have larger capacities than cars, which means that they can transport large groups of people while releasing fewer carbon emissions. Trains, in particular, are noted to release the lowest amount of carbon emissions per kilometer traveled.

Bicycle Accommodations

Given that they release zero carbon emissions, bicycles remain one of the most eco-friendly forms of transportation for short distances. However, bicycle ridership will inevitably remain low when cities fail to build infrastructures with bicycles in mind. For instance, it can be difficult and even dangerous for bicycle riders to join cars on the road when there are no designated bicycle lanes. Adding dedicated bicycle lanes, bicycle bridges, bicycle parking, and storage make it easier for bicycle riders to get around cities.


Walking is not a popular activity in the United States. That’s not due to laziness, it’s due to the fact that car-focused infrastructure, in which there is a lack of safe walking paths and people-oriented streets, makes walking unsafe. U.S. cities rank consistently low on walkability indicators, which has led to increased instances of pedestrian deaths. Aside from adding safe walking paths, cities can improve walkability by building smaller, denser blocks in which service institutions (such as restaurants, hospitals, and schools) remain in close proximity to one another.

Clean Energy Use

Non-renewable energy sources, such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas, still remain the most popular sources of energy in the United States. For cities to be sustainable, they need to enforce the use of clean energy sources, such as solar power, hydroelectric power, and wind power. Because renewable energy sources significantly reduce carbon emissions within a city, the air becomes cleaner, which can make cities more livable.

Urban Farming Support

As mentioned, transportation is a major contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, passenger vehicles are not the only culprits. Vehicles shipping food from farms and manufacturing plants to grocery stores and supermarkets also add to the country’s carbon footprint. To reduce pollution, cities need to support urban farming efforts, such as community gardens and spaces for farmers' markets. Urban farming can decrease the need for grocery and supermarket food and encourage people to choose healthier local options. Every individual should play their part in protecting the planet’s health. However, the country can only make greater strides toward environmental progress once it focuses on eradicating the structural barriers that make environmental living difficult. Through sustainable urban planning, the United States can reduce car dependency, increase renewable energy usage, support urban farming, and make its cities better places to live in.

Article written by Riley Jackson

Exclusively for Earth Conscious Life

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