New research shines light on future directions for cities on sustainability and climate action

Our Professor in Urban Futures, Simon Joss, along with Dutch colleagues, Dr Daan Schraven (Delft University of Technology) and Professor Martin de Jong (Erasmus University Rotterdam) have carried out a comprehensive analysis of over 11,000 scientific articles to reveal insights into how urban sustainability approaches have evolved over the past 30 years and are likely to develop in the coming 50 years.

35 city labels have been identified and used including ‘resilient city’, ‘eco city’, ‘liveable city’, ‘regenerative city’ and ‘learning city’. ‘Smart city’ takes the majority – 46% - of the total research output over the last 30 years.

The study, 'Past, present, future: engagement with sustainable urban development through 35 city labels in the scientific literature 1990-2019', advises cities to make essential connections between different aspects of sustainable development, based on a multi-dimensional mapping which relates e.g. ‘liveable’ to ‘ecological’ and ‘creative’ to ‘smart’ urban development. 

The authors said: 'The findings demonstrate how urban sustainable development has different connotations and implications for different cities and these various aspects are expressed through the choice of different city labels.

'Hence, we can use this in policy to create stronger links between Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities with the other 16 SDGs to help responding to the known challenge that there is often a trade-off between the different goals.

'We hope that our study can also benefit urban practitioners by giving them information on the best way forward for their future research, policy and practice to help global cities tackle climate change action.

'Equally we also hope, as we move towards COP26 summit of world leaders in Glasgow later this year, that our research can help inform and support the conversation and debate on cities and sustainability.'

First published: 16 February 2021

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