Planning Considerations for Sustainable Cities and Communities


As of 2022, approximately two-thirds of the global population is expected to be living in urban areas. This rapid urbanisation presents both opportunities and challenges. This includes issues such as overpopulation, pollution, inadequate infrastructure, and more. In October 2015, the United Nations introduced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This comprises of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals aim to address the world’s most pressing challenges, ranging from areas such as poverty and climate change to inequality and education. Among these goals is SDG 11 that seeks to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. To achieve this goal, proper planning and management at various levels are essential. This includes considering areas such as:
1) Digital infrastructure
2) The construction industry

Localization of Digital Infrastructure

The digitalization of society has been a prominent topic of discussion in the 21st century. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the internet have the potential to promote social and economic inclusiveness, efficiency, innovation, and sustainability. However, the exponential growth of digitalization has led to a digital divide. This is particularly the case in developing economies where segments of the population lack proper access and affordability. Beyond this, the integration of technology into communities is essential for success. The concept of “smart cities” emphasises transparent governance and collective intelligence, fostering competitive economies, and democratic policy planning. A study of cities (in the UK, Colombia, and India) found that local governance and a culture of civic intimacy are crucial for success, even more so than structural and socio-economic factors.

To bridge the digital divide and ensure effective digital infrastructure, the Digital Society Incubator (DSI) model has been proposed. An incubator relates to an organisation that supports business startups with a range of services and materials to help groups succeed. A DSI can serve as an open knowledge forum for sharing and co-creating information on digitalization’s impact on society, the economy, science, and communication. It would bring together experts from various disciplines to develop a common understanding of the challenges posed by exponentially growing technology.

The role of Sustainability Manager also plays a crucial part in translating government policies from the national to the localized level. Their responsibilities include informing local governments about growing demands of society regarding sustainability issues. Achieving sustainability goals, including addressing this digital divide, requires localized infrastructure implementation and a feedback system that extends beyond the digital sphere.

Regenerative Circular Economy

The construction industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the global economy, closely tied to urbanization trends. It offers both opportunities and challenges for sustainability, similar to digitalization. Traditional construction practices often result in large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and the reduction of natural spaces. Additionally, the industry is central to providing affordable housing in areas experiencing rapid urbanization, particularly in developing countries.

Sustainability in the construction industry can be broken down into two primary sections. First, the industry’s role in promoting environmental sustainability is critical. Policymakers must consider co-benefits such as increased efficiency of renewable materials and prioritize them over industry trade-offs like time and cost constraints. Implementing a Circular Construction Evaluation Framework (CCEF) can help establish a circular supply chain by using renewable materials that can be repurposed time and time again. This means materials can be recycled upon demolition.

The second focuses on governance and inclusive coordination in project planning and management. The concept of urban metabolism, which considers the technical and socio-economic processes occurring in cities, highlights the importance of co-designing solution with communities. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) can play a role in housing development but should require more inclusive, systematic, and collaborative approach that incorporates the perspective of the community as a whole. 

Final Thoughts

Achieving SDG 11 requires collaboration, communication and co-design at the forefront. Digital infrastructure and the construction industry, though very different, share this commonality. Both areas require collective efforts to tackle sustainability challenges. Sustainable cities and communities are vast networks of interconnected individuals and organizations, and their development can thrive, under the right conditions.

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Send tips or suggestions to Author: Robert Joseph Kelly, postgraduate student of business management at Maynooth University.