In a world where we are beginning to understand that sustainability means ultimate survival, the way our cities support their inhabitants and interact with the environment has drawn a lot of attention as we seek a blueprint for the future. Every year, Arcadis, a global consultancy firm, rates the world’s cities for sustainability. It looks at how cities support people, planet, and profit and highlights the achievements and challenges we confront in the quest for urban sustainability.
London, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Singapore, Vienna: The Top Five
This year’s Arcadis top-five ranking is essentially a reshuffle of 2015’s or 2016’s ranking with the exception of Zurich which loses its top spot while Edinburgh edges its way into the upper rankings.
Arcadis notes that the overall rankings will necessarily be influenced by cities’ performance in the individual categories that comprise them. For example, while top contender, London showed fairly balanced performance across categories, Stockholm and Vienna fared best in their planet-friendliness scores, Edinburgh performed best in people-related measurements, and Singapore took the crown in the profit category.
Citizen Centric Archetypes – Understanding the Differences Between Cities
In its report, Arcadis points out that the differences between cities can be viewed from the perspective of citizens and how they relate to the city. By looking at the three pillars of sustainability and the city characteristics that define citizen’s experience, Arcadis produced a spectrum of citizen centric city archetypes which can, in turn, be used to classify cities into so-called clusters.
The four clusters are:
These affluent cities occupy the top 25 percent of the Sustainable Cities Index and offer residents security and convenience. Automation and sensing technology contribute to quality of life and the cities rank well in the Sustainable Cities Index. Future challenges will include the need to cater for an aging population. Many Northern European cities and affluent cities in Asia fall into this cluster.
Arcadis identifies this second-quartile cluster of cities as delivering fair quality of life with room for improvement. Although automation can contribute to quality of life in these cities, it is a greater threat to employment. However, they have balanced economies and should be resistant to economic dislocation. A significant number of US cities occupy this second-tier cluster.
When cities confront rapid change, a lively informal economy often takes the place of more traditional structures. There’s a greater focus on community on the micro level – but also a greater vulnerability to disruption. Examples of such cities can be found in the lower third quartile of the Sustainable Cities Index. This cluster consists of a mixture of cities in developing economies as well as older citied confronting a time of radical change.
These industrial giants exhibit a high level of income inequality. Enterprise-driven and located in rapidly growing economies there is a large informal economic sector and a constant flow of new arrivals. With the focus on immediate gains above sustainability, these cities occupy the lowest quartile of the Index. This quartile is dominated by cities in Asia and India.
Level of Development Correlates Less with Sustainability Than Citizen Experience
In looking at the world’s cities from a citizen-centric perspective, Arcadis hopes to spark debate on the ways all aspects of sustainability impact on quality of life – and the ways in which elements that limit citizen satisfaction feedback to sustainability.
Arcadis concludes that it’s possible for a city to have a high sustainability ranking yet still not be sustainable from its citizens’ perspective. The challenge is for cities to identify their citizen centric challenges along with their sustainability challenges and develop ways to meet the present and future needs of their populations.