Green Urbanism

Green Urbanism

In the report on ambient air pollution, World Health Organization (WHO) wrote that in 2012, seven million deaths in the world was attributable to air pollution. Bearing in mind the increasing number of warmer days due to climate change, it is safe to assume that the air quality is in danger, especially in the cities. Additionally, World Bank claims that cities host 54.3 % of the world population and the UN reports addition of another 2.5 million people to the urban population by 2050. These numbers prove the urgency for solutions that will improve the quality of urban life. Fortunately, it is not all negative and alarming, and the current trend is aligned with sustainable solutions. An increasingly popular solution is expressed with the term ‘green urbanism’.

Walker Wells, the director of the Green Urbanism Program for Global Green USA defines green urbanism as the practice of creating communities mutually beneficial to humans and the environment”. It is an interdisciplinary approach: the knowledge and expertise of professionals from different fields including ecologists, urban planners, engineers and economists are consulted and incorporated. Presenting the products of this collaboration, Timothy Beatley stayed in the Netherlands for a year and observed the innovative and sustainable development 25 European cities. In his famous book ”Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities” he shares his observations and defines the characteristics of a city that puts green urbanism in practice.

According to Beatley, the cities we can call ‘green’ are:

  • Cities that strive to live within their ecological limits, fundamentally reduce their ecological footprints, and acknowledge their connections with and impacts on other cities and communities and the larger planet.
  • Cities that are green and that are designed for and function in ways analogous to nature.
  • Cities that strive to achieve a circular rather that a linear metabolism, which nurtures and develops positive symbiotic relationships with and between its hinterland (whether that be regional, national, or international).
  • Cities that strive toward local and regional self-sufficiency and take full advantage of and nurture local/regional food production, economy, power production, and many other activities that sustain and support their populations.
  • Cities that facilitate and encourage more sustainable, healthful lifestyles.
  • Cities that emphasize a high quality of life and the creation of highly livable neighborhoods and communities.

Dr. Steffen Lehmann explains the three pillars of green urbanism: Energy and Materials, Water and Biodiversity, and Urban Planning and Transport. Energy and materials deal with recycling and development of sustainable renewable energy sources while water and biodiversity focus on the protection of the ecosystem while creating nature based solutions for the development of cities. Finally, urban planning and transport handles urban design, social sustainability and mobility of people. The following figure shows the areas of work for green urbanism:

All in all, there are three main objectives of green urbanism in making our cities more livable and sustainable: zero fossil-fuel energy use, zero waste and zero emissions. Although meeting these objectives seems close to impossible now, there is a growing interest and effort in the positive direction. In the end, a good start is half the battle.


Beatley, T. (2012). Green urbanism: Learning from European cities. Island Press.

Lehmann, S. (2010). Green urbanism: Formulating a series of holistic principles. SAPIENS: Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society, 3(2). Retrieved from:

Wells, W. (2010, October 1). What is Green Urbanism? Planetizen. Retrieved from: