Discovering sustainable cities

Discovering sustainable cities


Today, 4 billion people live in cities. According to the World Bank, this figure will double by 2050 and will amount to 70% of the world's population. The advance of urbanisation is irreversible, and so for it not to become a problem, the cities of the future must be sustainable. Even one of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the eleventh, is dedicated to “Sustainable Cities and Communities.” According to the UN, urban areas currently occupy just 3% of the Earth's surface, but they consume 60-80% of the energy and produce 75% of total carbon dioxide emissions. It's clear therefore that further increases in the population could result in very serious consequences. In order to avoid them, urban development must be planned and organised so as to make cities smarter, more resilient, more inclusive, safer, more circular, and more liveable: in a word, sustainable.


Technology required for smart, circular cities 

An important contribution towards sustainability may come from technology. Smart cities of the future will be enormous hyper-connected ecosystems, studded with sensors and devices collecting and analysing huge swathes of data to provide increasingly advanced services. Big Data will be the beating heart of the smart city, helping to manage a range of critical issues, from traffic congestion to security.

An infrastructure based on the Internet of Things is already being used in Amsterdam to provide real-time monitoring of traffic and improve the health of the population by limiting harmful emissions. Barcelona uses a similar system to provide integrated management of water, street lighting and parking. In Los Angeles new waste management policies resulting from predictive analysis have led to an 80% reduction in areas classified as unclean.

Today, the issues of quality of life, environmental sustainability, health and social inclusion are at their most problematic in an urban environment. Our Group is also studying the overall transformation of this environment: in the position paper “Circular cities. Cities of tomorrow,” the vision of the circular city is emerging as the only feasible prospect for overcoming these challenges, with new technologies being employed to offer a smarter way of living.

Major innovations are expected in the transport sector. Self-driving cars, e-mobility and shared mobility (car, scooter and bike sharing), environmental sensors, smart parking, smart traffic lights and smart street lighting will be a regular feature on the roads of the city of the future. Energy Systems that are increasingly digitalised and efficient enable the increased use of solar and wind power, leading to the development of networks that are more widespread, decentralised and have zero emissions.

Urban planning and architecture also have a vital role to play. More green areas help to reduce city smog and to keep the air cleaner, while the increased energy efficiency of buildings will make homes and offices more resilient. Sustainable architectural solutions, with more careful consideration given to the use of alternative, eco-friendly materials, will have a positive impact on the well-being of citizens.

In short, cities are sustainable if their energy systems are self-sufficient, if they are capable of managing resources intelligently and if they use innovation to improve the quality of people's lives. 


Sustainable cities around the world 

So, which of the world's cities are already heading in this direction?

According to the non-profit organisation Climate Reality Project, five cities are leading the way towards the urban sustainability of the future:

  • Copenhagen (Denmark), which is aiming to become the world's first carbon-free capital;
  • San Francisco (United States), primarily through the application of innovative technology to the transport system and the energy efficiency of buildings;
  • Vancouver (Canada), which is implementing a 360-degree green strategy;
  • Stockholm (Sweden), which has created a cleaner, more efficient centralised heating system; 
  • Singapore, through a transport plan aimed at reducing pollution and road traffic, by providing an extensive network of services and setting limits on the use of cars by residents.


The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, a league table published by the leading global engineering and consultancy company in the building sector, each year uses three parameters to list the 100 most sustainable cities. They are namely: people (quality of life), planet (environmental impact), profit (productivity and infrastructure). The 2018 report places London in first position, followed by Stockholm, Edinburgh, Singapore and Vienna. In general, European cities dominate the index occupying eight of the top 10 places, where there are no US cities.


Sustainable cities in Italy 

  • Which of Italy's cities are the smartest and most sustainable? The ICity Rate report drawn up by FPA, a Digital360 Group company, gives us our answer. The annual ranking analyses 15 dimensions of urban life observed through 107 factors which encapsulate how smart a city is.

The most recent edition assigned the first three places to:

  • Milan, which has experimented with forms of smart mobility and services such as the citizen's digital file, as well as making sustainability a central element of the architectural projects that are redesigning the city's skyline;
  • Florence, which has developed an integrated processing system for georeferenced data on the city to manage traffic in real time, and is leading the way in the development of e-mobility;
  • Bologna, which has set up a public network based on cloud technologies and an integrated digital identity to bring together the content and services provided by local government, businesses and the community.


“You love a city not for its seven or seventy-seven wonders, but because it has an answer to your special question,” wrote Italo Calvino in “Le città invisibili” (Invisible Cities). Today, our question has found an answer: sustainability.