9.6 – How can urban living be sustainable?

Step 1: Read the key terms list below. Make sure that you understand and could give a definition to somebody else.

Step 2: Read the information in Section 1. Answer the exam questions here

Step 3: Watch the Youtube clip in Section 2. Read the information in Section 2. Answer the exam question here

Key terms you need to know to understand this topic:

Sustainable/sustainability –

Core understanding – Making sure future kids will have enough resources and be able to visit the places you have.

Write it for the examiner – Development that looks after future resources and considers the needs of future generations.

Stewardship –

Core understanding  – Everyone should look after the environment and do their bit.

Write it for the examiner – The personal responsibility for looking after the environment. No one should damage the present or future environment.

Conserve  –

Core understanding – Looking after the environment.

Write it for the examiner – Managing the environment and resources in order to protect it.

Section 1 

What is a sustainable city? 

A sustainable city is an urban area where the people who live there practice an environmental and eco-friendly way of life. Sustainable cities encourage residents (the people who live there) to use public transport (buses, trains etc), manage their waste through recycling and make use of open spaces and parks. A strong sense of community is encouraged (knowing and interacting with your neighbours) and residents are asked their views and opinions when making decisions.

How can a city become more sustainable? 

Strategy 1: Looking after and conserving historic buildings and areas. 

Problem– Once buildings are knocked down they are gone forever. The heritage and importance that the building had is gone. It uses up resources to build new buildings from scratch.

Solution- Conservation

Old Town in Hull is an example of an area which is conserved due to having a special historical or architectural (Buildings)  interest.  Hull City Council has a ‘ Historic environment strategy’ to conserve places and buildings considered important to the heritage of Hull.

trinity churchHoly Trinity Church in Hull’s Old Town area is over 700 years old – The largest parish church in England. As well as being used for Christian worship, the church also serves as a multi-purpose venue for community projects, a beer and ale festival and educational purposes. Multi-use venues stand a much greater chance of been conserved due to the services they provide to the local community, increasing their historical and cultural value.

This involves maintaining and repairing historic buildings so that they remain preserved. They promote stewardship and education in order to encourage public participation. Even if the purpose of the building changes, the exterior (outside) and the interior (inside) stay the same.

Strategy 2: Looking after and conserving the natural environment. 

Problem – As Cities and towns are developed more and more, they can become bigger and bigger. This is known as urban sprawl. Eventually the countryside surrounding a city will simply become part of the city with housing, retail and industry. This leaves little open green space for people to enjoy. It also impacts on animal habitats and woodland areas which are often cleared to make way for new developments.

Solution – Green belts 

green belts in england map

Green belts exist around many large towns and cities in England. Green belts are there to protect the surrounding countryside from been swallowed up by the urban area. There are strict laws and restrictions on building and development in Green Belt areas.


Limiting where building and development can and can’t happen within and on the edge of cities means that people can enjoy the natural environment. This also means that brownfield sites are built on as an alternative, meaning that land is recycled and re-purposed.

Strategy 3: Reducing and disposing of waste

Problem – The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year (roughly the weight of an adult Hippo). A large percentage of the waste produced could be composted or recycled. The UK government has a target to recycle 70% of all waste and individual city councils have their own targets. Quite often these targets are not met. As a country, the UK sends more waste to landfill (burying waste) than most other European countries.

landfill A typical landfill scene.

Solution – Waste management 

Recycling waste means that landfill sites will receive much less rubbish. This also means that resources and production materials are used again, reducing the need to produce more.

‘Bags for life’ at supermarkets are an example of waste management. Thy encourage shoppers to re-use bags so that fewer plastic bags are used overall.

Strategy 4: Involving local people

Problem – People don’t tend to like or get on board with things that they feel they don’t have any say in. Its far better to be asked which way you would like something to be done than for it to just happen.  City councils and governments often don’t consult with the people who actually live in a particular place before making changes or introducing new things.

Solution – Involvement 

Asking residents their views and opinions during the planning stages of developments (building a new shopping centre for example) means that people feel they are been heard. This also means that all different view points are considered, both for and against the proposed development. In the end, when a decision is made, even if it isn’t want some people wanted, at least they will feel they had their say. In a general election, even if you didn’t vote for the party who got in at the end, at least you got to cast your vote.

Involvement also encourages people to come together and work as communities. It makes people care about where they live and want to make it the best place for everyone.

Strategy 5: Providing public transport

Problem – Many people living in towns and cities use cars as their main mode of transport. At school for example, the majority of teachers drive to work every day. Many people driving to and from work causes ‘rush-hours’ where traffic builds up at particular times of the day because everyone is trying to get somewhere at the same time. This causes air pollution. In some towns and cities buses are unreliable, do not turn up when they should or turn up late. Taxi’s are expensive and are not really any better than cars. Trains often connect major towns and cities, they do not provide well for getting to and from places within one city.

Solution – Efficient public transport

London has a congestion charge. This charge means that to drive in certain areas of London you have to pay a charge. This discourages people from driving. Instead, they can use public transport systems such as buses and underground trains (The Tube). This is often a much quicker and cheaper way of getting around in London.underground

Bus lanes – Mean that buses don’t get held up in traffic meaning they are often quicker than driving.

Park and ride – Parking on the edge of a city and getting a bus to the centre. Parking costs are often very high in cities and so this usually works out cheaper.

Section 2 

Case study – BedZED – A sustainable community


BedZED is a sustainable community in South London.

Features of BedZED:

  • Designed to be Carbon neutral
  • Energy efficient – solar energy (from the sun) and biomass – residents use 25% less energy than the UK average.
  • Recycling of water
  • Waste recycling
  • High quality buildings which will stand the test of time.
  • Car sharing schemes
  • Electric and LPG vehicles
  • A strong sense of community.