Green, Smart, & Sustainable Cities

For many years cities were described and understood as somehow separate from the so-called “natural world.” Today, we recognize that cities are situated in broader physical processes and entangled in ecosystems. Hurricane Katrina, Super-storm Sandy, record heat waves in Russia and choking air pollution in Beijing remind us that human activities can influence and exacerbate the impacts of natural forces on cities. At the same time, issues around economic development, environmental justice and vulnerability, and resilience remind us that cities are also impacted by a complex prism of social and economic factors.

While cities cover only 2% of the global land area, they consume 60% of the energy and produce 75% of the carbon emissions. By 2050, 66% of the world's population will live in cities. In light of the enormity of these challenges, scholars and policy makers have become interested in developing concepts and constructs around urban sustainability. Public and private institutions have also initiated programs and activities to help measure and guide cities towards sustainability goals. But there is much to be done.

To address these needs, international standards bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created a Smart Cities Advisory Group to coordinate efforts across the global standardization landscape, and published ISO 37120, Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has published standards on smart and sustainable cities including ones for key performance indicators, integrated management, climate change adaptation, smart water management, smart buildings, smart infrastructure, and technical specifications for smart and sustainable cities. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) created a Systems Evaluation Group (SEG) on Smart Cities, and the Global Cities Indicators Facility (GCIF) is working on standardized metrics for comparative learning across cities. In the U.S., EPA promotes “green infrastructure” techniques such as impervious cover reduction, rain gardens and permeable pavements to reduce impacts on receiving waters, and also partners with HUD and DOT on such goals as improved streets for bicyclists and pedestrians, to prepare cities for climate change, and to create a sense of place. In July 2014, EPA formed the Green Infrastructure Collaborative with six other Federal agencies to promote stormwater management and hazard mitigation plans, ecosystem and transportation planning and building resilience in cities.

A number of universities, notably Columbia, The Harvard Kennedy School, MIT, NYU, UVA, Cornell Tech, and the University of Toronto (U of T) have institutes and centers on smart cities and urban planning. With the exception of U of T, the emphasis at these other institutions is research on sustainability infrastructure, smart grid, built environment, big data analysis of civic problems, and the application of sensor technologies and urban informatics. By concentrating on metrics for urban governance, design, technology and economics and by highlighting the role of international standards such as the ISO 37120, the U of T Global Cities Institute program appears to be the one most closely matched to the scope of this EEMI focal area. EEMI will work diligently to avoid duplication and instead will strive to complement the work at U of T.

The goal of EEMI in this area is to advance knowledge and inform on best practices with urban sustainability indicators as developed and promulgated through voluntary standards.

Specialty area lead: Dr. Jonathan Deason, Professor and former Director, Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, U.S. Department of the Interior.