The Green City: defining and measuring performance

IHS staff Dr. Ogenis Brilhante  and RSM alumnus Jannes Klaas have recently published a paper on green cities, which streamlines more complex ways of looking at urban growth and sustainability. 

The rapid growth of our cities and evolution of our production methods has had an immense impact on how the urban world has developed. The growing popularity of the dispersed city model in the 20th century not only contrasted highly with earlier, more compact cities of the 19th century, but also created negative consequences on infrastructure and resources. In response, growth solutions with less environmental impact were sought out. Even though various theories related to sustainability and the environment have emerged, important questions remain open for debate.

Cities evolve under very complex patterns of urban development, with spatial, cultural, environmental, and socio-economic characteristics that are very hard to pinpoint through a small set of indicators. This paper recognises these complexities and the fact that it cannot address all the different elements of the urban development process. Therefore, the selected sectors and indicators of the index developed only reflect a fraction of local reality. The paper attempts to simplify and measure this complexity, by offering a simple umbrella framework to define a green city and developing a method to calculate green city performance over time.

While the compact city concept was proposed in an attempt to solve the issues of urban expansion and resource efficiency, the green city is a more recent response to the problem of creating denser, greener and more liveable cities.

Fifty cities were analysed, in this paper with the aim of showing that green cities are also sustainable and liveable. The proposed Green City Concept is an umbrella framework which brings together elements from previous theories. This concept incorporates several elements of the socio-economic and environmental pillars of the theory of sustainability as well as other concepts such as the compact city, sustainable city, green growth, and liveable city, among others. The framework highlights energy efficiency and renewable energy as stewards of resource efficiency and green performance.

In the end, this paper was able to define a green city as “a city that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy in all its activities, extensively promotes green solutions, applies land compactness with mixed land use and social mix practices in its planning systems, and anchors its local development in the principles of green growth and equity.” Unlike other definitions for green cities, the above definition distinctively includes energy efficiency as a key feature. Furthermore, it was proven that GDP has a positive influence on Green City performance, population size has a negative impact, and that the most influential factors are sanitation and air quality.

The paper can serve as a guiding tool for future users to learn to apply the method, create their own method, or to adapt it in a way that it responds to their own city’s needs. Furthermore, the method can be used for monitoring proposed targets and actions meant to improve green city performance and help identify and explain the factors behind it.